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Food for Progress Initiatives Produce Real Results- And Strawberries

By John Brewer, Foreign Agricultural Service Administrator

As our group sat near the strawberry fields, in Jutiapa, Honduras, it was hard not to be impressed with the positive outcomes stemming from a USDA grant in 2006. On Tuesday, June 29, I inaugurated the “Biotechnology and Food Security” Conference and later that day I found myself in the strawberry fields—I’ll get to those in a minute. Read more »

Fire Adapted Communities Help Reduce Wildfire Spread, Damage

When it comes to natural disasters and tragedies, most people opt for complete avoidance. But what should you do when it is not a matter of avoidance, but minimizing risk? Most experts will agree that being prepared to adapt to the expected conditions is the best plan: Read more »

USDA Funding Support Helps a Native Learning Center in Rural Alaska to Grow

Yuut Elitnaurviat – People’s Learning Center (YE) is a non-profit vocational training center created by regional leaders to address the unique training and vocational education needs of the primarily Native residents of the Yukon Kuskokwim Delta Region of southwestern Alaska. YE has been carefully designed and is community driven. Read more »

New Jersey Mom, 89, and her 70 Year Old Daughter Buy a House Thanks to a USDA Direct Home Loan

Elizabeth and Doris Jones are a mother and daughter living in Penns Grove, New Jersey.  Elizabeth is 89 and Doris is 70.  They both lived in separate one bedroom apartment units for almost 30 years.   Now, thanks to USDA’s Direct Home Loan Program, they have their own house with a yard. Read more »

Don’t Miss Meat and Poultry Hotline Manager Diane Van’s Live Facebook Chat, Thursday at 1:00 p.m. EDT

The mercury is rising as we near the 4th of July weekend, and so are opportunities for foodborne illness. To ward off the potential food disasters that large gatherings, sweltering heat, and high humidity can combine to create, FSIS is taking a new approach to getting its Be Food Safe message to consumers before the summer’s hottest holiday begins.

On Thursday, July 1 at 1:00 p.m. ET, FSIS Meat and Poultry Hotline Manager Diane Van will host a live “Summer Food Safety Chat” on USDA’s Facebook page. With over 8,000 fans and popularity among consumers of all ages and backgrounds, the USDA’s Facebook page will serve as our platform to let consumers ask our expert what they want to know about shopping, preparing and grilling for the 4th of July.

We hope this chat will be succesful in engaging consumers in our food safety education efforts, and we hope it will be successful in reducing instances of foodborne illness this Independence Day. To join, simply log in to your own Facebook account, become a fan of the US Department of Agriculture, and ask away! Invite your friends—Facebook ones and real ones alike—and make sure they know to join as well.  Until then, we suggest following our Twitter feed, where you can’t ask us questions, but you can get short, timely notices of FSIS recalls, other news, and seasonal food safety tips.

Farm-to-school project opens up new markets for small family farms

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.By Jennifer Sowerwine, University of California – BerkeleyMy mouth begins to water just thinking about all the delicious fruits and vegetables I will enjoy this coming weekend celebrating the Fourth of July. And we’re lucky here in Northern California to have a wealth of fresh produce grown locally.

Many stores, restaurants and even schools aren’t taking advantage of this local supply. This past spring, with support from the National Institute of Food and Agriculture and in coordination with the University of California Cooperative Extension Service, I started a project to open up new markets for local growers by connecting them with new buyers. In particular, we worked with strawberry growers of Southeast Asian descent in the Sacramento and Fresno regions. This is part of a larger program to increase the economic viability of Southeast Asian farms in California’s Central Valley through on-farm research and training in crop production, pest management, food safety and marketing.

Most of the 95 strawberry farm stands in the Sacramento region are owned by Hmong and Mien refugees from Laos, who turned to farming when they immigrated to the United States after the Vietnam War. They sell most of their product at farm stands, but during peak season demand can’t keep up with production. With limited language skills, most farmers can’t access new markets and leave the fruit to rot in the field.

In partnership with local produce distributor, Produce Express, and several nonprofits including the Community Alliance with Family Farms, the Alchemist Community Development Corporation and Soil Born Farms Urban Agriculture and Education Project, we now bring fresh, local strawberries into children’s school lunches, restaurants and low-income neighborhoods. Some farmers deliver direct to the schools, allowing children to consume berries picked just hours before.

We also want to reduce “food miles” or the distance food must travel from farm to fork. We created a Google map to help residents find their closest farm stand. Sacramento-area residents are able to enjoy fresh strawberries from farms located less than 10 miles from their residences.

This year, twelve local strawberry farmers sold an additional 4,600 cases of berries beyond their own farm stands, earning a combined $58,000. These additional revenues are a welcome relief for these small farmers, who on average gross $15,000 in a good year. These partnerships are a win-win solution for both small farmers and residents, especially low income residents and school children, who have greater access to fresh, nutritious, local food.

Fresh, local strawberries are now available to more than 60,000 school children through a partnership between local growers, the Sacramento School District and the University of California Cooperative Extension Service.

Fresh, local strawberries are now available to more than 60,000 school children through a partnership between local growers, the Sacramento School District and the University of California Cooperative Extension Service.