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Earth Day 2010-Observing the 40th Anniversary of an Earth Changing Idea – A Time of Service

By Secretary Tom Vilsack

On Earth Day’s 40th anniversary, Americans across the country will be taking time out of their busy lives to help improve the environment, and USDA is joining the effort.  From the mall in Washington DC, to the sands of New Mexico and plains of North Dakota, USDA employees are joining local residents at over 100 Earth Day events designed to encourage Americans across the country to take action.

At USDA, we are dedicating Earth Day 2010 to improving water quality.  With that theme in mind, if you are in the area of the National Mall on April 22, come to the People’s Garden where 17 USDA agencies and offices will hold our second annual Earth Day festival.  This festival is open to the public to educate folks about the role USDA plays in improving water quality and water conservation. There will be live music – and a host of educational activities to see and do including: a truck farm, an on-site working water system, water quality demonstrations, green roofs, and planting activities.  Among the featured speakers will be Dave White, Chief of the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS).

However, if you’re not in the Washington DC area, see if you can join us in one of the other USDA-sponsored events around the country, many of them open for participation by volunteers.  For instance, in Ohio, NRCS and the Farm Service Agency will join together to enroll 100,000 acres into the Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program. The Forest Service will host 50 events alone, including one involving 400 students in the Tongass National Forest in Alaska.  Rural Development staff will join REI in a cleanup of the Monongahela River near Pittsburgh.  For a complete list of the events and activities, along with a message from President Obama on the importance of Earth Day, go to:  http://www.whitehouse.gov/earthday.

Many of these events will also provide an opportunity to reflect on the environmental benefits we rarely appreciate.  Many Americans don’t know the valuable benefits that landscapes like forests, grasslands and farmlands bring to their daily lives.  Our National Forests and Grasslands alone provide nearly 20% of the nation’s water supply.  And tens of millions of Americans rely on water that comes from our working lands: our farms, ranches and privately-owned forests.

Working to ensure that our nation’s water resources, forests, and private working lands are conserved for the next generation is a top priority for USDA.  Our U.S. Forest Service works to care for the 193 million acres of land with which they are entrusted.  And with the help of USDA programs, America’s farmers, ranchers and forest owners have embraced their role as stewards of our natural resources.  They have implemented conservation practices on tens of millions of acres across the nation to provide us with clean air to breath and water to drink, to improve and maintain wildlife habitats, and to capture carbon to combat global warming.

On Earth Day, I know that millions of Americans are taking individual responsibility for the health of our environment.  And I know that this year – and for decades to come – USDA will be there to help them in that effort.

This constructed wetland near Jackson, Wyoming provides habitat for fish and other wildlife.
This constructed wetland near Jackson, Wyoming provides habitat for fish and other wildlife.

Under Secretary Concannon Visits Riverside for Farmer’s Market Salad Bar Program 5th Anniversary

USDA Under Secretary for Food, Nutrition, and Consumer Services Kevin Concannon

On Friday, I had the opportunity to join a celebration of the 5th anniversary of Riverside Unified School District’s internationally recognized Farmers’ Market Salad Bar Program in Riverside, Cali.  The successful program began as a pilot farm to school salad bar program and today provides healthier options on the menus in the Riverside School District.

The salad bar program at the Riverside Unified School District provides a unique opportunity for students to not only enjoy fresh fruits and vegetables from local farmers but to also grow their own produce. The partnership among schools, community, and local and state government is essential to building healthy dietary behaviors for our nation’s next generation.

I enjoyed meeting Rodney Taylor, school district director of nutrition services, who is often referred to as the “King of Farm to School.” Taylor revolutionized food service in the school district, providing high-quality meals cooked from scratch using locally-sourced ingredients at the middle and high schools. Twenty-nine of the district’s 30 elementary schools offer a daily farmers’ market salad bar. Thirty-three percent of the elementary students choose the salad bar for lunch. Since the program started, lunch participation has increased from 47 to 65 percent.

The Farm to School program at Riverside Unified School District is not just limited to the lunch tray—students also learn from a registered dietician about the benefits of eating fresh fruits and vegetables. Local farmers also visit and help students understand how and where healthy foods come from.

“We are excited to celebrate this milestone with the entire community,” said Taylor. “Five years ago, we began an incredibly ambitious project to bring fresh produce to as many students as possible. The Farmers’ Market Salad Bar program has allowed us to do just that.”

As part of the USDA’s Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food initiative, members from the USDA Farm to School Team will visit Riverside Unified School District. During their visit, the team will work with local farmers, local and state authorities, school districts, and community partners to learn about Riverside’s farm to school efforts, including how the activities first began, the relationship between growers and the school district, what obstacles exist or were faced along the way, and the benefits the activities have had on the school and the community.

USDA Under Secretary Kevin Concannon chats with Emerson Elementary School’s Green Team students.
USDA Under Secretary Kevin Concannon chats with Emerson Elementary School’s Green Team students.

Emerson Elementary School Green Team students volunteer their lunch recess to work in the garden (composting, planting, exploring and experimenting) each day with a passion.
Emerson Elementary School Green Team students volunteer their lunch recess to work in the garden (composting, planting, exploring and experimenting) each day with a passion.

 

Your Health, Our National Security

By Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack

Today I joined U.S. Senator Richard Lugar (R-IN) and retired admirals and generals from the non-profit group, Mission: Readiness, to release the results of a study on obesity among young adults. The report delivered some disturbing news – more than 9 million young adults, age 17 to 24, are now too overweight to join the military.  But with this news comes opportunity and optimism to help our kids across the country to lead healthier lifestyles.

The Mission: Readiness group, which consists of more than 130 retired admirals, generals and other military leaders, has shown America that the obesity epidemic is threatening the nation’s security, and is calling on Congress to support the administration’s proposal of an increase of $1 billion per year for ten years for child nutrition programs.

As Congress debates reauthorization of the Child Nutrition Act, it is important to recognize the historical context and future impact this legislation will have on our nation – our economy, our national security, and our communities. Immediately after the World War II, our leaders understood the importance of investing in good nutrition to ensure that the country would never want for healthy, strong, young people to serve in uniform.  And so, in 1946, President Harry Truman signed the National School Lunch Act – which formed the basis for the nutrition programs we still have in place today.

Fast forward 60 years and we are faced with a generation of young Americans that are not healthy or fit enough to serve their country as their forefathers have.  The Obama Administration and Mission Readiness stand united behind the following priorities for the reauthorization of the Child Nutrition Act: get the junk food out of our schools; support increased funding to improve nutritional standards and the quality of meals served in schools; and provide more children access to effective programs that cut obesity.

This is a crisis that strikes at the core value of service to country and community. Let this study serve as a call to action for all Americans. What can you do to help your country? Get fit, get active, get healthy

Remembering USDA’s Own

Fifteen years ago, USDA and all of America experienced a tragedy that shook us to the core and united us in ways that brought out the best in our country.  At 9:02 am Central Standard Time on April 19, 1995, a bomb exploded in the A.P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, killing 168 innocent people.  Ninety-eight victims were Federal employees. 

 Seven of those were members of the USDA family.  In honor of these seven victims, the Riverdale, MD, conference center was renamed “The Oklahoma City Memorial Conference Center” and a portrait titled “Heroes of America’s Harvest” has been permanently displayed outside the center since 2005.

 This year, we will honor our lost colleagues in a moment of silence.  This remembrance fulfills a promise we made to the families of the fallen employees 15 years ago ─ to remember their loved ones and the spirit of unity that was born from their deaths and the deaths of others in Oklahoma City.  Please join me in remembering and honoring APHIS employees Olen Bloomer, Jim Boles, Peggy Clark, Dick Cummins, Adele Higginbottom, Carole Khalil, and Rheta Long. 

I think each of us remembers that day and its effect on America.  Many of our current employees have been working for USDA for 15 years or more and can recall the effect that the tragedy had on our Agency.   Let the memories of our loss inspire us to become better people and better public servants.  I welcome you to share your thoughts, reflections and memories

Earth Day in Alaska-A time to Mark Progress on Improving the Quality of Rural Health

As America marks the 40th anniversary of the first Earth Day, it’s good to reflect on the real, positive affect USDA’s water program and the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (Recovery Act) is having on rural Alaska.  Our Department, working with other Federal departments and the State, continues to fund projects to improve water quality across Alaska.  Here’s an example: Read more »

Agriculture Secretary Vilsack Dedicates Animal Health Research Facility in Ames, Iowa

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and other USDA officials today dedicated the final component of the National Centers for Animal Health (NCAH). The cutting-edge center provides laboratories, offices, animal space and administrative space for some of the nation’s top animal health scientists and researchers.

The dedication marks the completion of long-term project to consolidate three USDA units previously operated separately at Ames, resulting in better cost savings for America’s taxpayers and employing about 700 people. The NCAH is a cutting-edge center operating from a single campus with laboratories, offices, animal space and administrative space for some of the nation’s top animal health scientists and researchers.

The facility includes: the National Animal Disease Center, operated by USDA’s Agricultural Research Service (ARS), the National Veterinary Services Laboratory and the Center for Veterinary Biologics, operated by USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS).

The crowd listens as officials dedicate the National Centers for Animal Health.
The crowd listens as officials dedicate the National Centers for Animal Health.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack addresses the large crowd gathered for the dedication ceremony in Ames, Iowa.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack addresses the large crowd gathered for the dedication ceremony in Ames, Iowa.

Agricultural Research Service Administrator Ed Knipling, Research, Education and Economics Under Secretary Molly Jahns, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service Deputy Administrator for Veterinary Services John Clifford, APHIS Associate Deputy Administrator for Veterinary Services Jose Diaz, and Marketing and Research Programs Under Secretary John Ferrell pose by the Ames, Iowa building dedication plaque at the end of the ceremony.
Agricultural Research Service Administrator Ed Knipling, Research, Education and Economics Under Secretary Molly Jahns, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service Deputy Administrator for Veterinary Services John Clifford, APHIS Associate Deputy Administrator for Veterinary Services Jose Diaz, and Marketing and Research Programs Under Secretary John Ferrell pose by the Ames, Iowa building dedication plaque at the end of the ceremony.