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Working With Our Partners for a Healthier Future

First Lady Michelle Obama joined Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack at Parklawn Elementary School to speak with faculty and parents about the United States Department of Agriculture’s new and improved nutrition standards for school lunches. An important accomplishment of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act that President Obama signed into law last year. Also, in In February 2010, First Lady Michelle Obama introduced “Let’s Move” incorporating the HealthierUS School Challenge into her campaign to promote a healthier generation of children. USDA is making the first major changes in school meals in over 15 years. The new standards encourage fruits and vegetables every day of the week, increasing offerings of whole grain-rich foods, offering only fat-free or low-fat milk and making sure kids are getting proper portion sizes at the Parklawn Elementary School Alexandria, Virginia, on Wednesday, January 25, 2012.  USDA Photo by Bob Nichols.

First Lady Michelle Obama joined Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack at Parklawn Elementary School to speak with faculty and parents about the United States Department of Agriculture’s new and improved nutrition standards for school lunches. USDA Photo by Bob Nichols.

Wednesday was a monumental day for kids, families, educators, administrators, food service workers and the advocates who have led the charge and worked hand in hand to deliver healthier, more nutritious food to our nation’s school children.

For the first time in over a decade the federal government has made significant changes to school meals that will provide kids across the country with the nourishment they will need to flourish in school and in life. Read more »

Secretary’s Column: An Economy That’s Built to Last

This week, in his State of the Union address, President Obama laid out a blueprint for an economy that’s built to last – an economy built on American manufacturing, American energy, skills for American workers, and a renewal of American values.

The President and I believe that this is a make or break moment for the middle class. What’s at stake is the basic American promise that if you work hard, you can do well enough to raise a family, own a home, and put a little away for retirement. Read more »

Iowa Stakeholders Meet with USDA Officials to Discuss Renewable Energy Opportunities

Earlier this week, I had the opportunity to facilitate a meeting with many rural energy stakeholders that USDA Rural Development works closely with here in Iowa.

Joining me in the discussion were representatives from the Environmental Law and Policy Center, Iowa Farm Bureau Federation, MidAmerican Energy, USDA Farm Service Agency, Community Vitality Center at Iowa State University, the Iowa Economic Development Authority, the Iowa Department of Natural Resources and many more.

Also in attendance were representatives from Senator Tom Harkin’s and Congressman Leonard Boswell’s offices.  Senator Harkin helped draft the original Energy Title in the 2002 Farm Bill. Read more »

Protecting Working Forests

A view of the Kootenai River from the Boundary Connections project in Idaho. U.S. Forest Service photo.

A view of the Kootenai River from the Boundary Connections project in Idaho. U.S. Forest Service photo.

The U.S. Forest Service recently announced grants totaling $52.2 million for 18 conservation and working lands projects across the U.S. this year.  The landscapes are some of the country’s most beautiful spaces and will now be protected for future generations to enjoy.

Since 1990, the Forest Legacy Program has protected more than 2.2 million acres through public-private partnership using federal and leveraged funds of more than $562 million. We work with private landowners, states and conservation groups to promote sustainable, working forests. Read more »

Bringing Back the Bees

Some bees are specialists that only pollinate certain plants. This squash bee works the Cucurbita crops—squash and pumpkins.  (Photo courtesy of Nancy Adamson and the Xerces Society)

Some bees are specialists that only pollinate certain plants. This squash bee works the Cucurbita crops—squash and pumpkins. (Photo courtesy of Nancy Adamson and the Xerces Society)

A recently awarded USDA Conservation Innovation Grant (CIG) will fund research into bee-friendly seed mixes.

A partnership made up of the Xerces Society, University of Wisconsin Center for Integrated Agriculture Systems and USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service in Wisconsin is working to develop and test seed mixes that will provide the best habitat for native bees. CIG-funded projects use innovative technologies and approaches to address natural resources issues. Read more »

USDA Visits Farmers Who are Bringing Locally Grown and Milled Flour back to an Oregon Community

There are only a few tables at Randy’s Main Street café, but this is where the small community of Brownsville, Oregon, gathers to sort out the world’s problems and, sometimes, hatch some pretty big ideas.

Willow Coberly and Harry Stalford, the owners and operators of Stalford Seed Farms, have had many conversations around these tables as they were developing ways to grow, mill, sell and distribute local wheat, even when everyone told them they’d never make it work in Oregon’s Willamette Valley. This is also where last week USDA’s Director for Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships Max Finberg and USDA Rural Development State Director Vicki Walker joined Willow and Harry to hear about the steps – and risks – they took to bring wheat back into the local food system.  Joining them were organic farming pioneer and co-founder of Oregon Tilth, Harry MacCormack of Sunbow Farm; Pam Silbernagel, a regional economic development specialist with Oregon Cascades West Council of Governments; and Dan Sundseth of Ten Rivers Food Web, a nonprofit organization that works with three Oregon counties to increase locally grown food to help build resilient food systems within their communities. Read more »