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Reap What You Sow: Choctaw Children Learn about Gardening and Cooking

Nutrition Educator Liz Easterling of the Mississippi State Extension Service leads a cooking demonstration of "farmers market salsa."

Nutrition Educator Liz Easterling of the Mississippi State Extension Service leads a cooking demonstration of "farmers market salsa."

“How many of you like vegetables?”  The question posed to a gathering of Choctaw children in a garden in rural Mississippi elicits skeptical responses.  But upon sampling the fresh produce harvested with their own hands, however, the children’s stereotypes of disgust turn to surprises of delight.  A young boy taking a giant bite out of a juicy tomato could be the poster child for the vibrant red fruit.  A pair of sisters declares cucumbers as their favorite.  The newly adventurous children are even willing to taste raw eggplant…Now that’s impressive.

Through a summer program made possible by a Food Distribution Program Nutrition Education (FDPNE) Grant from the Food and Nutrition Service, 150 children from the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians were able to get up close and personal with fresh fruits and vegetables.  Twice a week, children ages 6-18 from the Boys and Girls Club and the Tribal Youth Court participated in the lifecycle of planting, picking, and preparing produce.  The week my colleagues and I visited the Choctaw Indian Reservation, the children scattered seed for iron clay peas, witnessed the hustle and bustle of a farmers market, and learned how to dice vegetables for a salsa recipe. Read more »

Secretary’s Column: The Land and Water Conservation Fund at 50: As Important Today as Ever

Today, September 3, 2014, marks two important 50th anniversaries: the signing of the Wilderness Act and the establishment of the Land and Water Conservation Fund. Since President Lyndon Johnson signed both pieces of legislation in 1964, Americans in all 50 states, across thousands of rural and urban communities, have reaped the benefits of accessible outdoor recreation opportunities and protected natural areas.

Together, these landmark pieces of legislation helped to usher in a new era for conservation.

The Wilderness Act protects wild and scenic undeveloped land across the United States for the benefit of all. Today, the National Wilderness Preservation System includes more than 750 wilderness areas covering almost 110 million acres. Read more »

Food Insecurity Among American Households – Surveying the Numbers

USDA’s annual food security report shows that 14.3 percent of American households were food insecure in 2013. Food-insecure households lack consistent access to adequate, nutritious food. “Very low food security” is the more severe condition, with one or more household members at times reducing their food intake below normal levels.

USDA’s annual food security report shows that 14.3 percent of American households were food insecure in 2013. Food-insecure households lack consistent access to adequate, nutritious food. “Very low food security” is the more severe condition, with one or more household members at times reducing their food intake below normal levels.

USDA’s latest report on food insecurity in America shows that the prevalence of food insecurity is down from a high of 14.9 percent of U.S. households in 2011 to 14.3 percent in 2013. This annual report takes a look at the number and types of households that had difficulty at some time during the year providing enough food for all their members due to a lack of financial or other resources. Back in 2007, about 11 percent of U.S. households were food insecure, but with the economic downturn in 2008, that rate had increased and remained relatively high.

Given improvements in employment and other economic indicators, some have wondered why food security has been slow to improve. A recent study by my colleagues and me at the Economic Research Service sheds light on this question. We found that while unemployment declined in 2012 and 2013, inflation and the price of food relative to other goods and services continued to increase. These increases offset improvements in food security that might have resulted from the decline in unemployment.  This study provides a useful backdrop to understanding trends in and causes of food insecurity. Read more »

Back to School Means More Opportunities for NASS Statistician

In addition to working with numbers and statistics during the day, USDA’s statistician Lisa Jackson also spends her evening with numbers, teaching math at Anne Arundel Community College in Arnold, Maryland.

In addition to working with numbers and statistics during the day, USDA’s statistician Lisa Jackson also spends her evening with numbers, teaching math at Anne Arundel Community College in Arnold, Maryland.

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 USDA’s rich science and research portfolio.

Back to school has a three-fold meaning for me these days. In addition to watching my daughter and son head back to complete yet another year of college and high school, respectively, I get to meet my new students at an area community college. These math students arrive in my classes with varying levels of academic preparedness, goals and aspirations and I have the chance to encourage and inspire them to consider a future career in mathematics or statistics.

As their evening instructor, I teach the core curriculum with the knowledge that what they learn can far outweigh the credit hours each student will receive for completing these courses. My adult learners will benefit from real world practical answers to the age-old rhetorical question, “When am I ever going to need this?” That’s where my experience with USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) comes in. I have seen just the kind of impact numbers can have on rural communities, and whole sectors of U.S. agriculture. Just as I have learned in my job, my students get to see the importance of accuracy when it comes to numbers and data. Of course I am not alone in this approach. Like me, many adjunct professors of mathematics bridge the gap for math learners from what is being taught to its practical applications. Read more »

Un-Paving the Way to Successful Outdoor Education in Urban Settings

Children from Warren Village discover hiding spots for bugs at Warren Village’s new Nature Explore Outdoor Classroom in Denver. (Courtesy of Dexter Lane, Nature Explore)

Children from Warren Village discover hiding spots for bugs at Warren Village’s new Nature Explore Outdoor Classroom in Denver. (Courtesy of Dexter Lane, Nature Explore)

Mothers sit and laugh together, shaded by newly planted trees. They look on while their children play and explore in dirt and grass at the new Outdoor Nature Explore Classroom of Warren Village in the heart of Denver, Colorado.

A U.S. Forest Service grant of $100,000 and a partnership with the Arbor Day Foundation made the outdoor classroom possible.

This new outdoor space is un-paving the way to outdoor education opportunities for urban children in Denver, planting the seeds of inspired outdoor learning through the use of nature play spaces. In contrast to the previous hardened playground with sticky asphalt and hot metal slides, children of Warren Village are now immersed in a nature play zone of trees, shade, dirt, flowers, plants, stumps, stones and water. Read more »

Produce Pilot Ready to Take Root in Schools

Last fiscal year, AMS purchased more than 272 million pounds of fresh fruits and vegetables. The new produce pilot program will increase these figures, expanding the opportunity for qualified vendors to supply fresh, quality fruits and vegetables to schools. USDA Photo Courtesy of Bob Nichols.

Last fiscal year, AMS purchased more than 272 million pounds of fresh fruits and vegetables. The new produce pilot program will increase these figures, expanding the opportunity for qualified vendors to supply fresh, quality fruits and vegetables to schools. USDA Photo Courtesy of Bob Nichols.

Whether it’s trying on a new pair of shoes or eating a new item from your favorite restaurant, there’s always a feeling of excitement when you try something new. Here at USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS), we get that same feeling when we are able to create new opportunities for our nation’s producers. That’s why we’re excited to announce that AMS and our sister agency—the Food and Nutrition Service (FNS)—have launched a new pilot program for the procurement of unprocessed fruits and vegetables.

The new pilot program—established by the 2014 Farm Bill—is part of USDA’s continued commitment to create and expand opportunities for our nation’s fruit and vegetable producers.  The pilot will open doors for American producers, giving them an additional opportunity to supply quality, fresh fruits and vegetables to schools in up to eight states. Read more »