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USDA’s Nutrition Tour Makes Pit Stop in South Carolina

Cross-posted from the www.letsmove.gov blogBy Julie Paradis, USDA Food and Nutrition Service Administrator

This week I got a chance to travel to South Carolina and to talk to child nutrition staff from South Carolina as well as surrounding States like Tennessee, Mississippi and North Carolina about how we plan to improve school meals and the overall health of our nation’s children. It was a great group and a productive discussion.

This Administration’s goal is to improve child nutrition by ending child hunger and childhood obesity. As Administrator of USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service, I can tell you that we’re committed to meeting this goal. FNS has 15 nutrition assistance programs—many of which serve children directly. Our National School Lunch and National School Breakfast Programs serve 32 million and 11 million children respectively. For many of the children we serve, School Lunch and Breakfast are the only nutritious meals they eat in a day.

Currently, our child nutrition programs are up for reauthorization. I see this as a crucial opportunity to make inroads toward ending child hunger and obesity. A strong reauthorization would help give parents, school districts, State Agencies, and all of our other partners the support and resources they need to make a difference. I was inspired by the level of commitment shown by those who attended the April 12 discussion in Charleston.  I heard a lot of great suggestions on how to make our programs more effective.  My hope is that through child nutrition reauthorization we can help creative ideas come to fruition.

Todd Bedenbaugh with the South Carolina Department of Education said, “It’s imperative that Secretary Vilsack is given the authority to regulate all foods sold during the school day to include vending machines and school stores. It will allow us to improve nutrition Integrity in the schools.”

I agree. One thing that we are acutely aware of is the fact that we must address hunger and obesity from many angles.  Nutrition assistance programs won’t solve these problems alone. That’s why I’m so excited about the First Lady’s Let’s Move! initiative. Let’s Move! is the type of integrated approach that is absolutely necessary.

We have to combine our efforts to serve better meals through nutrition assistance programs with efforts to improve access to healthy and affordable food, increase children’s physical activity, and help parents make healthy choices for their families.

Alice Lenihan with the NC Department of Health and Human Services applauds the First Lady for her efforts.  She said, “It’s the best thing that has come along in a long time. I urge the Administration and Congress to implement the CNR Bill. We need to shift our forces onto nutrition and physical activity. It’s an exciting time to be involved in child nutrition.” Alice Lenihan N C.

Child Nutrition reauthorization can ensure Let’s Move! gets the support it deserves.

My colleagues and I have several stops planned across the country.  Our goal is to escalate the national conversation on child nutrition. The feedback we get will help us take steps that build healthier families and communities across America.

 Roundtable group shot. FNCS Administrator Julie Paradis, Deputy Administrator for Special Nutrition Programs Audrey Rowe, and Southeast Regional Administrator Don Arnette meet with key state personnel and advocates from South Carolina, North Carolina, Mississippi, and Georgia, to discuss Child Nutrition Reauthorization in Charleston, S.C., Apr 12.
Roundtable group shot. FNS Administrator Julie Paradis, Deputy Administrator for Special Nutrition Programs Audrey Rowe, and Southeast Regional Administrator Don Arnette meet with key state personnel and advocates from South Carolina, North Carolina, Mississippi, and Georgia, to discuss Child Nutrition Reauthorization in Charleston, S.C., Apr 12.

FNCS Administrator Julie Paradis discusses the Child Nutrition Reauthorization with Southeast Regional Administrator Donald Arnette and state personnel in Charleston, S.C., Apr 12. FNS Administrator Julie Paradis discusses the Child Nutrition Reauthorization with Southeast Regional Administrator Donald Arnette and state personnel in Charleston, S.C., Apr 12

Sugarcane as a Biofuel – How Sweet It Is.

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.

Hawaii, most people would agree, is pretty close to being paradise – and the same things that make Hawaii a great place for a vacation also make it a great place to grow things. The natural capacity of land to produce crops depends on the amount and distribution of sunlight, temperature, and precipitation.  Hawaii has a greater natural production capacity than anywhere else in the U.S.   At one time, sugarcane was planted on over 100,000 acres of Hawaii farmland, and there were nine major sugar producers in the state.  Now there is only one producer, and the sugarcane acreage has shrunk to 37,000.

One way to revive the sugar industry in Hawaii is to diversify its products so that Hawaiians earn more per acre, and have their own sustainable supply of energy.  The USDA has partnered with the University of Hawaii and the Hawaiian Commercial & Sugar Company (the “last man standing” in Hawaii’s sugarcane industry) to develop new ways to grow and use sugarcane as a source of biomass (the organic material used to create biofuels).

In Hawaii, sugarcane has the greatest near-term potential as a biomass feedstock for producing biofuels—it’s perennial and non-invasive, it’s already been grown in Hawaii for over a hundred years, and there is room to improve the existing yields by using newer varieties and harvesting other parts of the plant.  Sugarcane yields more energy per acre than other existing crops– it produces both cellulosic biomass (that can be converted into sugars) as well as the sugar itself. 

In January, the Secretaries of Agriculture and the Navy got together and signed an agreement to work together on developing new biofuels and renewable energy sources.  Why is the Navy interested?  The Navy has also been looking into ways to “green” its large fleet of ships stationed in Hawaii, and it costs $10.6 million per year (at a price per gallon of $2.81) to keep one fueled and ready to move.  Right now all of that fuel has to be imported, too.

It has a 270-megawatt geothermal power plant in California, a wind farm at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and solar photovoltaic panels at its facilities in San Diego.   Using biofuels in its fleet is a logical next step.   The USDA, the Department of the Navy, the University of Hawaii, and the Hawaiian Commercial & Sugar are now working together on this project.

Harvesting sugarcane in south Florida, where scientists in the ARS Sugarcane Production Research Unit are identifying research to help sustain both agriculture and natural Everglades ecosystems.
Harvesting sugarcane in south Florida, where scientists in the ARS Sugarcane Production Research Unit are identifying research to help sustain both agriculture and natural Everglades ecosystems.

An experimental ARS sugarcane field near Canal Point, Florida.
An experimental ARS sugarcane field near Canal Point, Florida.

Bar-coded tags identify experimental varieties of sugarcane.
Bar-coded tags identify experimental varieties of sugarcane.

- Ellen Buckley, Program Analyst, Natural Resources and Sustainable Agricultural Systems, USDA Agricultural Research Service

Secretary Vilsack Finds the Beef in Illinois

“Where’s the beef?”  And the pork, and chicken?  At RMH Foods in Morton, Illinois…thanks to a USDA Rural Development guaranteed loan! Read more »

Agriculture Deputy Secretary Kathleen Merrigan Meets with Community Leaders to Discuss Lahaina Watershed Project

During her visit to Lahaina, Hawaii Merrigan met with local officials and community members.  The discussions centered on the history of the Lahaina Watershed Project (LWP) and the multiple benefits that programs such as the LWP provide. Community members thanked the Deputy Secretary for the USDA natural resources conservation programs provided to rural communities, expressed their appreciation for these projects, and discussed the overall benefits for citizens of Hawaii and the nation.

Agriculture Deputy Secretary Kathleen Merrigan is pictured here with Kiewit Project manager Jeff Fahey and other community leaders on a visit to the Lahaina Watershed project site.
Agriculture Deputy Secretary Kathleen Merrigan is pictured here with Kiewit Project manager Jeff Fahey and other community leaders on a visit to the Lahaina Watershed project site.

Davis Hosts First Field Listening Session on USDA Cultural Transformation

More than 220 USDA employees met Thursday at the Varsity Theatre in Davis, Calif. to share their thoughts during the first listening session designed to help implement a cultural transformation within the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Members of the USDA Cultural Transformation Task Force were present to hear ideas and to ensure this effort results in a more diverse, inclusive and high performance organization. Read more »

Recruiting the Next Generation of Food Safety Workers

Food Safety and Inspection Service Administrator Al Almanza today spoke about career opportunities at Texas A&M Kingsville to the Hispanic Leaders in Agriculture and the Environment. HLAE is a USDA-supported organization that draws membership from several colleges and universities.

The organization works to increase the number of Hispanics in agricultural pursuits in government, academia and private industry. While there, Almanza also observed and evaluated the agricultural research presentations prepared by HLAE members, who are mostly graduate-level students.

“Despite the tough economy, there are jobs at USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service, especially for those with scientific and technical training”, Almanza told the students.  (Click here for information about job openings at FSIS.)

Positions at FSIS follow the inspection, technical, professional, management, scientific and administrative career tracks. Everyone from veterinarians and chemists, to public affairs specialists and policy writers are needed.”

As a science-based agency, there’s a real need for microbiologists, epidemiologists, statisticians, nutritionists, medical officers and risk assessors.

But it’s not all test tubes and lab coats. The FSIS story is told through the Office of Public Affairs and Consumer Education, where computer, communications, journalism and writing skills are in demand.

FSIS also works with Hispanic youth organizations to offer internships and other training opportunities in agriculture.

While the Texas trip allowed the administrator to meet HLAE members, Almanza pointed out that careers are equally open to everyone. More than ever before, FSIS needs skilled and talented employees dedicated to protecting the nation’s meat, poultry and egg products.

“As our population grows and now that food safety is a top priority of this administration, working to keep pathogens out of America’s food supply can be a real top job. Agriculture and food safety offer meaningful and satisfying careers,” said Almanza, who has more than 30 years experience at the Department of Agriculture.

By Paul Koscak, FSIS Office of Congressional and Public Affairs