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U.S. House of Representatives Approves Resolution Honoring USDA’s Natural Resource Conservation Service

By Suzanne Pender, NRCS

The U.S. House of Representatives approved a resolution recognizing the 75th anniversary of the USDA Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS).

The Senate Concurrent Resolution (S. Con. Res. 62) congratulates the outstanding professional public servants, both past and present, of the NRCS as it celebrates its 75th anniversary this year. House Agriculture Committee Chairman Collin Peterson of Minnesota and Ranking Member Frank Lucas of Oklahoma introduced the House version of this resolution, which is co-sponsored by 17 other Members of Congress.

In 1935, Congress established NRCS in response to the Dust Bowl, a disaster that devastated vast stretches of the nation. Originally known as the Soil Conservation Service, the agency’s name changed to the Natural Resources Conservation Service in 1994 to more accurately reflect its role in protecting all natural resources – soil, air, water, plants and animals.

NRCS provides technical and financial assistance to landowners at a local level, recognizing the diverse needs across the country and the unique concerns in each local area. There is a NRCS field office in almost every county in the United States, and the staff in those offices helps local communities carry out thousands of conservation projects, translating into opportunities for job creation and increased investment in local communities.

“The United States depends as much today on productive soils and an abundant, high-quality water supply as we did 75 years ago, and given the agricultural and environmental challenges we face, these programs are more important than ever” Chairman Peterson said. “With this resolution we salute the NRCS professionals, both past and present, who have worked alongside America’s local farmers and ranchers for 75 years to help preserve our essential natural resources.”

“Farmers were conserving long before it became a celebrated trend to ‘go green.’  They have always had a vested interest in preserving the land that provides for them,” said Ranking Member Lucas. “Partnering with NRCS, our producers are provided the science and technical assistance to implement the most advanced conservation practices in the world.”

The House passed the resolution honoring the 75th anniversary of NRCS by a voice vote.

Honoring and Learning from 70 Years of Conservation: Jim L. Gillis, Jr.

By Mary Ann McQuinn, Georgia NRCS

NRCS joined the Ohoopee Conservation District and the Pine Country Resource Conservation and Development Council (RC&D) to celebrate and honor Mr. Jim L. Gillis, Jr., — at 93, the longest serving conservation district board member in the Nation. NRCS Regional Assistant Chief Leonard Jordan presented Mr. Gillis with a unique art glass recognizing his 70 years of conservation leadership.

Mr. Gillis was a founding member of the Ohoopee River Soil and Water Conservation District and remains its Chairman to this day. He was also an inaugural member of the National Association of Conservation Districts (NACD) Hall of Fame. Mr. Gillis witnessed the early days of NRCS, which is celebrating its 75th anniversary this year.

While relaxing in a rocking chair on the back porch of a pond house, and inside by the fireplace, he shared knowledge from his 70-year career and insights on founder and conservation legend Hugh Hammond Bennett. He reminisced about the conservation challenges and solutions from the Great Depression to today, and shared his thoughts about future challenges such as energy production and water conservation. Donnie Smith, Director of the Center for Agriculture Innovation, personally delivered a proclamation from the Governor designating Conservation Day in Georgia.

Mr. Gillis manages over 12,000 acres of timberland, and is well respected throughout the Southeast for his timber management program. It was indeed our honor to thank this conservation legend for all that he’s done for the natural resources of Georgia.

NRCS Regional Assistant Chief Leonard Jordan (left) learns from 70 years of conservation experience of Jim. L. Gillis, Jr. (right) NRCS Regional Assistant Chief Leonard Jordan (left) learns from 70 years of conservation experience of Jim. L. Gillis, Jr. (right)

Jim. L. Gillis sitting in a rocking chair. Jim. L. Gillis relaxing in a rocking chair.

 

North Carolina School Earns Gold for Creating Healthier School Environment for Kids

 Blog by Dr. Lynn Harvey, Ed.D., RD, LDN, FADA
Section Chief, Child Nutrition Services, Division of School Support,
NC Department of Public Instruction 

It was a proud day in North Carolina as Thomasville Primary School earned the HealthierUS School Challenge Gold Award.  Officials from the Food and Nutrition Service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture were in Thomasville, N.C., to present the award.  Child Nutrition Personnel were joined by the Mayor, members of the City Council, County Commission, and Board of Education, the Superintendent, Principal, Teachers, Parents…and of course, the VIPs of the day…the STUDENTS!  Thomasville Primary School was the “jewel” in the state education crown having earned top recognition for their efforts to educate the “whole child.”

  

As part of the celebration, students demonstrated what they do all year, to not only achieve the Healthier US School Challenge nutrition standards, but also the physical side… they planted seeds in the school garden as they got instruction from a local farmer; they honed their match skills by spending money (school-issued currency) to purchase fresh fruits and vegetables at their produce stand; they played Food Pyramid Scramble (yes, running and squatting was involved….just ask USDA Food and Nutrition Branch Chief, Jane Mandel, and Southeast Regional Administrator Donald Arnette who ran the race in business clothes!) 

 

When guests arrived for the awards celebration, they were greeted by the school’s Child Nutrition Personnel wearing bright yellow T-shirts that said ”Let’s Move”.

  

“The reason we picked this slogan,” said Brenda Watford, Thomasville County Schools Nutrition Director, “was to let First Lady Michelle Obama know that we are behind her ‘Let’s Move’ program. We want to help stop the obesity epidemic. We send newsletters home about the nutrition that children need and fact sheets about our fresh fruits and fresh vegetables that we serve as part of our USDA Fresh Fruits and Vegetables Program.” 

  

What I observed on this day was nothing short of a complete transformation in the school cafeteria. I saw a generation of “lunch ladies” transform into a new generation of “Let’s Move Ladies.” So at the end of the celebration…we respectfully said “Good Bye Lunch Ladies….Hello “Let’s Move Ladies!” 

Thomasville Primary School’s Let’s Move and Nutrition Staff and other local, state and national VIPs were on hand to celebrate the school receiving a USDA HealthierUS School Challenge Gold Award in Thomasville, NC, (USDA Photo by Debbie Haston-Hilger)
Thomasville Primary School’s Let’s Move and Nutrition Staff and other local, state and national VIPs were on hand to celebrate the school receiving a USDA HealthierUS School Challenge Gold Award in Thomasville, NC, (USDA Photo by Debbie Haston-Hilger) 

Physical Education Teacher Mandy Davis runs with a Thomasville Primary School student in the “strawberry in a spoon race” as part of their Let’s Move program inspired by First Lady Michelle Obama. The school received a USDA HealthierUS School Challenge Gold Award. (USDA photo by Debbie Haston-Hilger)
Physical Education Teacher Mandy Davis runs with a Thomasville Primary School student in the “strawberry in a spoon race” as part of their Let’s Move program inspired by First Lady Michelle Obama. The school received a USDA HealthierUS School Challenge Gold Award. (USDA photo by Debbie Haston-Hilger) 

Child Nutrition Assistants Shirley Ryals and Carrie Crump serve nutritious foods to Thomasville Primary School students during the lunch meal showcasing why their school won a USDA HealthierUS School Challenge Gold Award (USDA photo by Debbie Haston-Hilger)
Child Nutrition Assistants Shirley Ryals and Carrie Crump serve nutritious foods to Thomasville Primary School students during the lunch meal showcasing why their school won a USDA HealthierUS School Challenge Gold Award (USDA photo by Debbie Haston-Hilger) 

Apps for Healthy Kids “Game Jams” Coming to a City Near You

Cross-posted from the White House OSTP Blog by Robynn Sturm

In unveiling the Childhood Obesity Task Force action plan earlier today, First Lady Michele Obama underscored the need to “marshal every resource” to solve the problem of childhood obesity within a generation. Two new partnerships announced today as part of the Apps for Healthy Kids competition will give Americans across the country a chance to join the First Lady in her Let’s Move! campaign—and to help give kids the healthy lives they deserve.

Today, the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced it would partner with the International Game Developers Association (IGDA) to host game jams on the weekend of May 21-23 in major U.S. cities, including Boston, New York, San Francisco, and Atlanta. The game jams will draw game developers, graphic artists, and local youth together to brainstorm ideas and produce video game prototypes from scratch in just 48 hours. The prototypes will be displayed at the sixth annual Games for Health Conference, further refined, and ultimately submitted to theApps for Healthy Kids competition before that competition’s June 30th deadline. You can find out more about jams near you on the Health Games Challenge website.

Launched by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the White House Office of the First Lady, and the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy on March 10, 2010, the Apps for Healthy Kids competition challenges software developers, game designers, students, and other innovators to develop innovative, fun, and engaging tools and games that help kids and their parents to eat better and be more physically active.

The game jams—which will be scheduled in a number of additional cities soon—will be great opportunities for amateur and experienced game developers to collaborate on competition entries and refine their creations before submitting them. But you don’t need to travel to join in creative collaboration! Developers across the country can now get targeted feedback from the toughest of critics—tweens—anytime and anywhere. Recognizing that kids can’t be beat when it comes to judging whether a game will capture the imagination of their peers, the U.S. Department of Agriculture has partnered with Numedeon, Inc. to create a space within the virtual world Whyville.net where hundreds of thousands of tweens will be able to play, rate, and submit feedback to Apps for Healthy Kids contestants. Developers seeking feedback can post their game prototypes in the Whyville Game Arcade.

By creating opportunities for our nation’s most creative and talented innovators to work together and with our nation’s children, the two new partnerships announced today will maximize the number of high-quality submissions throughout the remaining 60 days of the Apps for Healthy Kids contest.

Robynn Sturm is Advisor for Open Innovation to the Deputy Director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy

Pop Quiz: How Can You Reduce the Fat in School Lunches?

This post is part of the Science Tuesday feature series on the USDA blog. Check back each week as we showcase stories and news from the USDA’s rich science and research portfolio.

When Americans think of the United States Department of Agriculture, they understandably think about the millions of farmers and ranchers who produce our food, feed, fiber, and fuel – the most productive in the world. But there is another group of Americans directly impacted by the work of USDA – the millions of our children who are fed through our child nutrition programs such as the National School Lunch and School Breakfast Programs.

A recent study sponsored by the Food and Nutrition Service examined how well schools across the country met USDA nutrition standards for key nutrients like protein, calcium, and vitamin C.  Several of us at the USDA Economic Research Service realized that we could use that same data set to look at the characteristics of schools that met the fat requirements and, more importantly, what successful steps some schools are taking to do just that.

The data set is small, but it is nationally representative.  We found many statistically significant associations between fat content and school policies despite the small nature of the sample.

A number of school policies and practices were associated with lower fat lunches:

* participation in programs that promote fresh fruits and vegetables or locally grown food;
* providing low-fat milk as the only milk choice;
* eliminating French fries or dessert from the menus;
* eliminating vending machines in middle and high schools; and
* excluding a la carte foods from elementary school menus.

The meal planning method also showed a pattern. In the traditional “food-based” method, each meal must consist of certain food item categories (e.g., meat, vegetable, starch). Some schools have moved to a nutrient-based method that plans meals according to nutrient content. And some have opted for an intermediate, “enhanced food-based” plan that combines the food-based method with more fruits, vegetables, and grains. The traditional meal planning method was used more by schools with the highest fat content.

The only school characteristic that was strongly associated with lower fat meals was being in an urban location compared to a suburban or rural one.

The strength of so many associations between school food policies and lunch fat content provide some interesting food for thought in addressing current concerns about nutrition for children.

Dr. Lynn Harvey with NC Department of Public Instruction Child Nutrition Services and Southeast Regional Administrator Donald Arnette with USDA Food and Nutrition Service encourages Thomasville Primary School students in the “strawberry in the spoon” race as part of the school’s Let’s Move program inspired by First Lady Michelle Obama (USDA photo by Debbie Haston-Hilger) Dr. Lynn Harvey with NC Department of Public Instruction Child Nutrition Services and Southeast Regional Administrator Donald Arnette with USDA Food and Nutrition Service encourages Thomasville Primary School students in the “strawberry in the spoon” race as part of the school’s Let’s Move program inspired by First Lady Michelle Obama (USDA photo by Debbie Haston-Hilger)

Local farmer and County Commissioner Billy Joe Kepley volunteers his time to teach Thomasville Primary School students the art of farming in their school’s garden. The school located in Thomasville, NC, is a HealthierUS School Challenge Gold Award winner and also has a Let’s Move program inspired by First Lady Michelle Obama (USDA photo by Debbie Haston-Hilger) Local farmer and County Commissioner Billy Joe Kepley volunteers his time to teach Thomasville Primary School students the art of farming in their school’s garden. The school located in Thomasville, NC, is a HealthierUS School Challenge Gold Award winner and also has a Let’s Move program inspired by First Lady Michelle Obama (USDA photo by Debbie Haston-Hilger)

 
Constance Newman, Economist, USDA Economic Research Service

USDA’s Nutrition Tour Makes a Stop in Las Vegas

Audrey Rowe, Deputy Administrator for Special Nutrition Programs
School Tours, Las Vegas, Nevada
April 26 and 28, 2010

I had the wonderful opportunity to visit two schools in Las Vegas, Nevada to discuss the upcoming reauthorization of the Child Nutrition Programs.  As Deputy Administrator for the Food and Nutrition Service’s Special Nutrition Programs, one of my top priorities is to improve the nutrition and health of our nation’s children.

During my trip, I visited two local schools in the Clark County School District to see our child nutrition programs at work.  My first stop was Reynaldo Martinez Elementary, where I met many wonderful children during the afterschool snack program.  The children were incredibly enthusiastic to hear that I brought them greetings on behalf of President and First Lady Obama, and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. To say the least, there were many hoots and hollers.  Creating even more excitement were the delicious beef tacos the children were enjoying!

This afterschool program is made possible by a fantastic partnership between Three Square Food Bank and After-School All-Stars.  With a primary focus on at-risk youth, it is a successful collaboration among different organizations to provide nutritious meals to children.  Nevada is one of only 13 states that are eligible to serve meals in afterschool programs through the USDA’s Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP).

After my visit to Martinez Elementary, I was fortunate to squeeze in a visit to Three Square’s facility—one of the largest in the state—and was amazed with the program they run.  The food bank provides afterschool meals through CACFP at nine schools and serves 130 meals to children at Martinez Elementary School each day.

The second stop on my Las Vegas school tour was Hollingsworth Elementary to see their breakfast program.   With a total of 92% of the school’s students qualifying for free or reduced price meals, both the National School Lunch and Breakfast Programs provide a nutritional safety net to ensure that these students are able to have at least two nutritious meals each day.

It was such a pleasure talking to these bright students and their parents about the benefits of school meals.  Some of them told me that they were very grateful to have the breakfast program at school – and were especially happy to have a few options to choose from.

I was so happy to see students starting their day with a nutritious breakfast since we know that children learn better and are more successful in school after eating a healthy breakfast.

After the breakfast service, I had the opportunity to talk with state and school officials, as well as a state Senator, about the challenges of operating the school meals programs. I shared with them how the Administration’s proposals for the Child Nutrition Reauthorization will provide them the help they need to improve the nutritional quality of school meals and the overall health of the school environment.  And I was able to hear from them what their priorities are and what they hope to see in the reauthorization bill.

As my Las Vegas tour came to an end, I thought about all the wonderful people I had met over those two days – from teachers and principals to nonprofit workers and a state representative, and of course, all of the children.  This trip made me realize how effective a group of passionate people can be in providing children the opportunity to have a few good meals each day.

I am very excited about our opportunity to pass legislation that will combat childhood hunger and obesity among schoolchildren and that will provide schools with the tools and resources needed to help children develop healthier eating habits.


Kids at Hollingsworth Elementary talk to Audrey Rowe, FNS Deputy Administrator for Special Nutrition Programs about how having a delicious and healthy breakfast helps them to learn.


Audrey Rowe, FNS Deputy Administrator for Special Nutrition Programs, eats breakfast with students at Hollingsworth Elementary in Las Vegas, Nevada.