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Our Challenge to America: Let’s Move! and Double the Number of HealtherUS Schools

By Tom Vilsack, Secretary of Agriculture

The timing of the School Nutrition Association’s (SNA) annual legislative action conference couldn’t have been better as USDA and the Obama Administration continue working on advancing the reauthorization of the Child Nutrition Act.  I really appreciated the opportunity to address the national organization representing 55,000 school nutrition professionals who are on the front lines of the effort to improve the health and nutrition of our nation’s children.

Last month, SNA announced their support for First Lady Michelle Obama’s childhood obesity initiative and agreed to a number of key steps to further improve the nutritional quality of school meals and advance nutrition education for America’s students.  SNA is an important partner in our efforts to improve the health of our children and reduce childhood hunger throughout the country.

SNA knows that the answer to improving child nutrition and combating obesity lies in our ability to work together and bring everyone on board this effort.  I am pleased that I could speak with them about joining me as I challenged parents, educators, and community leaders to double the number of HealthierUS Schools across the country in the next year. All have us have a stake in working together to improve the health and nutrition of our children and in turn the future of our nation.

Earlier in the week, First Lady Michelle Obama also attended the SNA conference to talk about her Let’s Move! initiative and its focus on raising a generation of kids to be healthy adults. The proposed enhancements to the reauthorization of the Child Nutrition Act that the Obama Administration put forward form the legislative centerpiece of the First Lady’s campaign and our efforts to ensure the health of our youngsters.

We are encouraged by the leadership that the School Nutrition Association and others have demonstrated. Looking forward we are excited to work with SNA and other organizations to encourage America’s families to get involved in school nutrition programs and promote physical activity and healthy eating at home.

This post was originally featured on the Let’s Move! Blog.

Honduran Oil Palm Cooperative Doubles Capacity, Opens Plant with Food for Progress Program Help

Since 2008, a cooperative of 154 oil palm farmers that comprise the Aguan Valley Palm Producers Association (APROVA) more than doubled their profits and their fruit collection capacity and opened their own refinement plant with assistance provided by TechnoServe under USDA’s Food for Progress (FFPr) Program.

Before this FFPr project began, the farmers lacked access to scales and a centralized collection center. Their disorganization put them in unfavorable negotiating positions and hurt their earning power.

Recognizing that APROVA needed a clear business strategy to succeed, TechnoServe submitted an FFPr proposal that USDA accepted in fiscal year 2005. USDA donated 4,000 tons of soybean meal and 9,350 tons of wheat to TechnoServe to sell in Honduras. The funds generated from the sale were used by TechnoServe to help APROVA develop their organizational, financial, administrative and marketing capacity.

With TechnoServe’s support, APROVA grew its assets by 185 percent, implemented a quality control and accounting and auditing system, and put into place a clear business plan. In April 2009, APROVA made additional strides by obtaining funding from USDA through the Inter-American Institute for Cooperation in Agriculture to open its first palm oil processing plant. The plant processes up to five tons of palm oil per day. Now, after selling their fruit to a processing plant, which extracts the palm oil and sells it back to APROVA, the farmers can refine their own oil, thus increasing their share of the profits.

The plant also extracts oil components that can be used to create commercially valuable products such as glycerin and soap. In addition, APROVA is now recognized by the national palm oil industry for its progress and sustainability, and the cooperatives membership has increased.

A member of the Aguan Valley Palm Producers Association holds the fruit from which palm oil is extracted. (Photo by TechnoServe.)

A member of the Aguan Valley Palm Producers Association holds the fruit from which palm oil is extracted. (Photo by TechnoServe.)

USDA’s Foreign Agricultural Service administers the program, authorized by the Food for Progress Act of 1985.  More information is available online at:

http://www.fas.usda.gov/excredits/FoodAid/FFP/foodforprogress.asp

For more information about TechnoServe’s development work, visit http://www.technoserve.org/

USDA Self Help Housing Forum Held in Arkansas

U.S. Senator Blanche Lincoln recently welcomed USDA Rural Development Administrator for Housing and Community Facilities Tammye Trevino to Little Rock for the department’s first of ten public forums on the Self-Help Housing Program.

Over eighty people from Arkansas and surrounding states attended the forum held at the William Jefferson Clinton Library.  In addition from hearing from Senator Lincoln, Administrator Trevino, and Lawrence McCullough, USDA, Rural Development State Director, Arkansas Self Help Housing Grantees spoke.  The forum provided the opportunity to share their personal experiences with the program.

Also while in Arkansas, Administrator Trevino participated in another forum at the Arkansas Studies Institute, focusing on rural libraries. Ms. Trevino announced an initiative to a crowd of over seventy, librarians, mayors, city officials and representatives of local businesses.

Immediately following the Rural Library Listening Forum, Ms. Trevino made the announcement of the selection of community based organizations in 18 states to receive funding to promote economic growth.  The organizations will receive more than $6.5 million in total grants to support rural economic development efforts.

Left to right: Lawrence McCullough, Arkansas State Director, Tammye Trevino, USDA Administrator for Housing and Community Facilities and Chairman of the U.S. Senate Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry Committee, U.S. Sen. Blanche Lincoln.
Left to right: Lawrence McCullough, Arkansas State Director, Tammye Trevino, USDA Administrator for Housing and Community Facilities and Chairman of the U.S. Senate Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry Committee, U.S. Sen. Blanche Lincoln.

Written by Karen Petrus, USDA Rural Development, Arkansas

Ugandan Dairy Cooperatives Quadruple Sales and Create Jobs with Help from the Food for Progress Program

Agriculture Secretary Vilsack today announced that USDA will donate more than $145 million in international assistance under the Food for Progress Program in fiscal year 2010. This figure will benefit more than 3.4 million people in Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Middle East by providing access to new opportunities for farmers and rural communities.

In 2006, Uganda’s Eastern Dairies, a company comprised of 11 local dairy cooperatives, quadrupled its sales in one year with assistance provided by Land O’Lakes, Inc., under USDA’s Food for Progress (FFPr) Program.

Before this FFPr project began, the cooperatives’ more than 500 members—of which 50 percent are women—were suffering from insufficient household incomes and lacked the ability to independently address Uganda’s low milk prices, volatile demand swings and unreliable payments by some buyers. In recognition of these problems, Land O’Lakes submitted an FFPr proposal to provide technical assistance and training to Uganda’s dairy industry to increase its productivity and competitiveness through market development, quality assurance and capacity building activities.

In 2005 USDA accepted the proposal and donated 11,100 tons of U.S. hard red winter wheat to Land O’Lakes. The wheat was sold in Uganda and the funds were used to partly pay for the cooperatives to install a 2,000-liter milk cooler at Eastern Dairies. With guidance from Land O’Lakes, the cooperatives reinvested their profits and member contributions to purchase more assets, upgrade their milk bulking center, and open two new sales outlets, which sell more than 15,000 liters of milk per month. As a result, household incomes have grown by more than 50 percent and Eastern Dairies‘ average monthly profit is more than $3,000. The expansion of the company has created input and service industry jobs and the company itself has grown from one employee to 10 fulltime workers.

The successes achieved at Eastern Dairies have prompted Land O’Lakes to begin working with MADDO Dairies to set up a new milk collection center in Lwagenge, a remote village in Masaka, Uganda, where dairy market accessibility is limited due to poor roads. Last year, MADDO Dairies was expected to install a new milk cooler with a 3,000-liter capacity, benefiting 80 dairy farmers and helping them reduce spillage and spoilage.

Uganda Farmers milk center

Farmers deliver milk to the Eastern Dairies milk collection center. (Photo by Land O'Lakes/Uganda.)


USDA’s Foreign Agricultural Service administers the program, authorized by the Food for Progress Act of 1985.  More information is available online at:  http://www.fas.usda.gov/excredits/FoodAid/FFP/foodforprogress.asp

For more information about Land O’Lakes development work, visit http://www.idd.landolakes.com/.

New School Building in Dillon, South Carolina on the Drawing Board Thanks to a 15 year old Student’s Letter to President Obama

When 15 year Ty’Sheoma Bethea, formerly a student in Dillon, South Carolina, wrote to President Obama about the condition of her school, It set off a chain of events that led, last Friday, to a celebration in Dillon marking the unveiling of plans for a new J.V. Martin Junior High School.  A combination of loans and grants from USDA Rural Development will enable the district to replace the old school.

It was my privilege to accompany Vernita F. Dore, Rural Development State Director for South Carolina to the celebration. In her remarks she said, “This is a wonderful day in Dillon, South Carolina. This is a wonderful day all across America.” Looking directly at Ty’Sheoma Bethea, the student who wrote to President Obama concerning the conditions at her school, Dore said, “When you wrote your letter to the President, you were fired up. When the President read your letter, he was fired up, and Rural Development, Dillon County, Darryl Rosser, and people all across America were fired up about education in Dillon, South Carolina, and that’s why we are here today. We’re all fired up!” The crowd erupted in applause.

Dore went on to say, “The Recovery Act signed by President Obama more than a year ago made this funding possible and demonstrates the Obama Administration’s goal to create jobs and improve education for rural America. Because of the stimulus money, Rural Development was able to provide $39.5 million for Dillon County Schools.”
Among those on hand were Mr. Rosser, CEO of the Chicago-based classroom furniture supplier that provided the furniture to give the school a makeover last year, and Dillon County School Board Chairman Richard Schafer.

Former Dillon School student Ty'Sheoma Bethea, (L) who wrote a letter about the condition of her school to  President Obama, stands with Rural Development South Carolina State Director Vernita Dore next to a drawing of a new school building funded with Recovery Act loan and grant funds provided through USDA.

Former Dillon School student Ty'Sheoma Bethea, (L) who wrote a letter about the condition of her school to President Obama, stands with Rural Development South Carolina State Director Vernita Dore next to a drawing of a new school building funded with Recovery Act loan and grant funds provided through USDA.

Darryl Rosser, CEO of the Chicago furniture company that supplied new furniture for the J.V. Martin Junior High School, Dillon County school board chairman Richard Schafer and Ty'Sheoma Bethea unveil plans for the new school funded by USDA Rural Development.

Left to right: Darryl Rosser, CEO of the Chicago furniture company that supplied new furniture for the J.V. Martin Junior High School, Dillon County school board chairman Richard Schafer and Ty'Sheoma Bethea unveil plans for the new school funded by USDA Rural Development.

Written by Marlous H. Black

USDA Rural Development-South Carolina

A Century of American Eating in a USDA Database

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.

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When the prominent food writer Marion Nestle accepted an invitation to speak at our agency to mark the centennial of USDA’s data on food availability in the United States, it didn’t surprise me that her remarks would focus on the problem of obesity. It’s evident throughout her widely read “Food Politics” blog that she, like First Lady Michelle Obama, is particularly concerned about childhood obesity.
A Century of Eating logo
Marion braved a fierce New York snowstorm to be with us at the Economic Research Service on February 26 as we celebrated 100 years of data on American eating, in a product we call the Food Availability Data System. In her keynote speech at the centennial, she indicated that our food availability data are key to explaining obesity trends, referring to the data system as “one of the government’s real jewels.” The food availability data, housed on the ERS web site, are used by nutritionists, food scientists, public health professionals, and policy makers, among others, as a popular proxy for consumption for several hundred foods.

What we term “food availability” is essentially the per capita amount of food available for human consumption. Each year my colleagues and I add together the production and imports of individual foods, and subtract exports and farm and industrial uses of the foods, to arrive at an approximation of what Americans consume on average. For many commodities, we now have data from 1909 to 2008. And data since 1970 are also adjusted for food losses that occur at the farm level, in processing and transportation, and at the retail/restaurant and consumer levels, providing an even closer approximation of what is actually consumed.  This latter data series also provides per capita calories per day for several hundred foods as well as daily per capita serving equivalents that can be combined for the different food groups and compared with Federal dietary recommendations.

The data system can tell researchers and other professionals that per capita cheese consumption, for example, has skyrocketed since the 1970s, and that carbonated soft drink consumption has seen a sharp rise since the 1940s, with a corresponding decline in milk consumption. Data users can compare diet with regular soft drink consumption. The system tracks per capita availability/consumption of vegetables over time, and users can look at numbers for the different varieties of vegetables. Users will find that just three vegetables – potatoes, tomatoes, and corn – continue to lead the pack. These are just a few examples of information that would likely be of interest to anyone concerned about obesity and diet quality.

We like to point out that this data product is the only source of long-term food availability in the country and continues to be a popular proxy for consumption.  Along with my colleague Hodan Farah Wells, I invite you to visit the Food Availability Data System on the web and explore a wealth of information on a century of American eating. A new audio-visual presentation on the site demonstrates some examples of what you can do with this unique data system.

Jean C. Buzby, Economist, USDA’s Economic Research Service