Become a fan on Facebook Follow us on Twitter USDA Blog Feed Watch USDA videos on YouTube Subscribe to receive e-mail updates View USDA Photos on Flickr Subscribe to RSS Feeds

Public Feedback and Comments Welcome on the New Advisory Committee Report on Dietary Guidance

Cross-posted from the Let’s Move Blog

By Tom Vilsack, Agriculture Secretary

I’ve just received an important report about diet and health, and wanted to share with you some of what it says. The Advisory Report is from the 2010 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee, and it is directed to me and to Secretary Sebelius at Health and Human Services. We will be using this report as the basis for finalizing the Dietary Guidelines for Americans by the end of the year. This report is a summary of the absolute best and most up-to-date science available, written by a group of 13 prominent independent experts in nutrition and health.

Their guidance is important because their recommendations provide the basis for important policy decisions related to the Food Pyramid, school meals, the WIC program, and other nutrition programs that USDA manages. The report highlights four major action steps for Americans to improve their diet and health:

The first is to reduce overweight and obesity by reducing overall calorie intake and increasing physical activity. The committee said that the obesity epidemic is the single greatest threat to public health in this century.

The second step is to eat more vegetables, cooked dry beans and peas, fruits, whole grains, nuts, and seeds. In addition, eat more seafood and fat-free and low-fat milk and milk products, and moderate amounts of lean meats, poultry, and eggs.

The third step is to cut out most added sugars and solid fats. Foods with added sugars and solid fats have unneeded calories and few, if any, nutrients. Also, to reduce sodium and eat fewer refined grains, especially desserts.

The final step is to “Meet the 2008 Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans.” This means to get up and move more—lots more! It is important for overall health and it helps burn calories to keep weight in balance.

How to put all of this advice together? The Committee identified several ways to build a total diet that meets nutrient needs, but stays within a person’s “calorie budget.”

The Advisory Committee was very concerned about the health of children—as we are at USDA. Obesity in children has tripled in the past 30 years, and we need to tackle that problem.

Between now and July 15, the public will have an opportunity to read and comment on the Advisory Report. You can find the report online. In early July we’ll also be holding a meeting here in Washington where the public can come provide oral testimony on the Advisory Report. We look forward to receiving and reviewing your comments. After evaluating your feedback, USDA and HHS will work together to develop the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, which we expect to release at the end of the year.

Kansas Butterfly Count Seeks Volunteers

Written by Allen Casey, NRCS Soil Conservationist, Kansas

The Manhattan Plant Materials Center (PMC) is recruiting Earth Team volunteers to participate in a butterfly count on July 14, 2010.

The count, sponsored by North American Butterfly Association (NABA), will help scientists monitor butterfly migration and get a good estimate of the different species and their numbers.

Volunteers will meet at the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) Plant Materials Center and disperse into the surrounding area, Wednesday, July 14, 2010, from 8:00 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. While knowledge of butterflies is a plus, it is not necessary.

In conjunction with the butterfly count is an optional Butterfly Identification Workshop on Thursday, July 8, from 9:00 a.m. to 10:30 a.m. Working as a partner with the PMC, the Konza Prairie Biological Station will host the workshop to help prepare volunteers to identify butterflies. Please register by Tuesday, July 6, at (785) 539-8761.

Those attending the event will also learn more about the PMC and its purpose of developing plants for conservation, as well as have a chance to look at some of the pollinator projects.

There is no charge for participating in the count, but attendees need to register by calling (785) 539-8761 by Monday, July 12, to assure adequate supply of materials. Those attending should bring a sack lunch and bug spray—and binoculars and camera (if you have them)—and dress appropriately for the weather conditions. You must provide your own transportation. If special accommodations are needed for the count or workshop, please let the PMC know when you register.

Earth Team volunteers expand NRCS services with volunteer time, talent, and energy. If you are interested in participating in the count but aren’t already an Earth Team volunteer, it is easy to become one. Earth Team application forms will be available the day of the butterfly count, or you can call (888) 526-3227. Anyone 14 years or older who is interested in conserving our natural resources is welcome to become a volunteer. (Minors aged 14 to 18 years need a parent’s signed consent form.)

Butterfly on red clover.
Butterfly on red clover.

Bear Fencing Provides an Electrifying Experience

Written by Bill Wood, State Biologist, AlaskaLet’s say you’ve just awakened from a restless 6-month nap. You check on the kids and it seems like everyone is really hungry. On your way to the grocery store you pass a chicken take-out joint and the smell of those fryers is irresistible. With kids in tow, you perambulate into the unattended shop; by all appearances, it seems you may have discovered the proverbial “free lunch.” Who could say no?

This happens for scores of mammas and pappas all over the Kenai Peninsula every spring—mamma and pappa bears, that is. And it’s not just chicken on the menu. Equally delectable items like dog food, honey and fish, not to mention livestock feed, a wide variety of human foods and other attractive items draw hungry bears that are just following their natural instincts. Bears spend as much as 80 percent of their waking day feeding or foraging for food. So when they’re rewarded for their efforts with a fairly easy meal and experience no negative repurcussions, they can quickly become habituated to that attraction.

Bears can be destructive and these situations can potentially be dangerous for all involved. Chicken coops, beehives, smokehouses and the like can quickly become demolition sites with lost equipment, money, time and effort. Sometimes encounters between humans and bears don’t turn out so well for the people, but they never turn out well for the bear. People can be proactive in reducing the potential for these kinds of human-bear encounters in a few important and sensible ways.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture, Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) Wildlife Habitat Incentive Program (WHIP) helps provide solutions for issues like this one. WHIP’s cost-share funding assistance is used to improve a wide variety of wildlife habitat conditions and help reduce negative impacts to wildlife species on private land.

For the 2011 fiscal year, NRCS has developed a new initiative available to landowners only on the Kenai Peninsula. The new project idea seeks to reduce potential up-close-and-personal interactions between people and bears at sites of human-induced bear attractants and provides matching funding to landowners to install permanent electric bear fencing. This type of fencing is an effective technique to exclude bears from areas where they should not seek food.

After receiving their first shock, many bears seem to sense the electrical charge in the fence lines and avoid those fences. When the fences are properly designed, even their appearance can remind bears of their previous unpleasant encounter.

NRCS, in cooperation with Alaska Department of Fish and Game, will also provide fence designs and site management plans and recommendations for the installation of the fences. Site inventory and assessment is part of the technical assistance landowners will receive, in addition to help with purchase and installation costs.

To find out more about the program contact the NRCS Kenai Field Office at (907) 283-8732, the NRCS Homer Field Office at (907) 235-8177, or the office of the Alaska Department of Fish and Game in Kenai at (907) 262-9368.

A mamma grizzly on the hunt for food in Alaska.
A mamma grizzly on the hunt for food in Alaska.

Green Farmer Supports CSP

By Paige Buck, Illinois NRCS

The Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) in Illinois is working to get the word out on the new Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) and encourage signup by landowners who may have heard about the program but are still “on the fence.” 

CSP is a voluntary conservation program that encourages producers to address resource concerns in a comprehensive manner by undertaking additional conservation activities and improving, maintaining, and managing existing conservation activities.

Kevin Green, conservation farmer and partner of both NRCS and the local Soil and Water Conservation District, is a strong supporter of CSP and helped spread the word about the program by hosting a “CSP Field Day” on his farm in Vermilion County, Illinois. He values CSP because it rewards him for the conservation work he’s already done on his farm and it helps him do even more.

Devin Brown of the Illinois Stewardship Alliance (ISA) helped organize the event. ISA is a strong NRCS partner in Illinois that supports conservation and conservation programs.

The group observed some of Kevin’s easy-to-implement conservation practices and asked Kevin and local NRCS District Conservationists many questions.

As a result, NRCS expects to receive a few more CSP enrollment applications from the local field office. Kudos to Mr. Green and Mr. Brown for a great CSP field day!

Kevin Green (center, pointing) points out one of the many conservation practices on his Vermilion County Illinois farm, which is currently enrolled in NRCS’ Conservation Stewardship Program.
Kevin Green (center, pointing) points out one of the many conservation practices on his Vermilion County Illinois farm, which is currently enrolled in NRCS’ Conservation Stewardship Program.

Permalink  |  Posted: 09:32AM Jun 16, 2010 by USDAblogger in USDA Web Site  |  Add Your Comment Here [

The Biology of Wastewater Treatment

By Jamie Welch, Worcester Prep, Berlin, MarylandThe upgrades currently taking place at the Berlin Wastewater Treatment Plant are comprehensive, and will allow the plant to fully process all the wastewater that goes through the system down to near drinking water quality.  The technology that the Town of Berlin, MD is installing was made possible thanks to a grant and some low interest Water and Environmental Program loans from the USDA.  These upgrades will help to remove the pathogens, nutrients and other pollutants from the influent.

Technology that is being installed as part of these upgrades is called a SBR or sequencing batch reactor.  I recently spoke with Jane Kreiter, Director of Water and Wastewater for the Town of Berlin, about this new technology and got a look at the lab where the Berlin wastewater officials monitor every stage of the treatment for specific criteria.

The new SBRs being installed at Berlin’s wastewater plant will all work in essentially the same way:  there will be three different SBR tanks installed as part of the ongoing upgrades, and Kreiter says that these will contain different amounts and kinds of bacteria to break down certain types of “bad” nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorous.  Giant blowers at the bottom of each tank blow varying amounts of oxygen into the tanks, causing the oxygen to slowly bubble to the top.  The oxygen is needed to maintain the biomass inside the tank so that they can be healthy and break down and remove the various constituents in the waste stream.  When the bacteria are young in the biomass, they consume and break down a lot of the nitrogen and phosphorous, but as they begin to get older, they become full and less efficient at breaking down nutrients.  When this happens, they die and fall to the bottom of the SBR.  The dead bacteria are then removed from the bottom of the tank by way of a pump assembly and sent to a digester.  The amount of bacteria and oxygen in the SBR must be constantly monitored to ensure that the right amount of contaminants will be removed at each stage of the treatment process inside the SBR.

After the influent has gone through the entire treatment process it is ready to be sent to the spray irrigation site in Libertytown, Maryland.  Samples of the treated effluent are collected as they are leaving the plant and are taken to the lab.  Kreiter was embarrassed to take me inside the cramped, temporary lab that is located inside the mobile trailer they are currently using while the regular lab is being renovated.  She assured me that this was not what the lab normally looks like and asked to “make sure to come back when we get our new lab,” which will be opening when the rest of the upgrades are completed on site.  In the lab they test for pathogens, nutrients, total suspended solids, PH levels, and biological oxygen demand.

The upgrades to the Berlin wastewater plant, when completed, will break down nutrients and contaminants in the influent to create near drinking water quality effluent. “It’s a better quality than [the water] a lot people get out of their wells,” Jane Kreiter adds.  For a 24-hour time-lapse video of part of the Berlin Wastewater Plant SBR installation, you can visit the following links: for Part 1 and for Part 2.

Jane Kreiter, Town of Berlin, Maryland, Wastewater Treatment Plant Director Jane Kreiter, discusses the biology of the treatment operation with Jamie Welch, student blogger, Worcester Prep.
Jane Kreiter, Town of Berlin, Maryland, Wastewater Treatment Plant Director, discusses the biology of the treatment operation with Jamie Welch, student blogger, Worcester Prep.

NRCS Earth Team Volunteer Makes Environmental Impact

 Dick Tremain, NRCS Iowa

Amy Plavak of Hillsboro, Oregon, used to lead multi-million dollar projects as a certified professional project manager.  Now she is one of 36,000 Earth Team volunteers working to improve the environment and restore wetlands which can clean water, reduce flooding and provide wildlife habitat. 

Earth Team is the volunteer program of USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS).  NRCS helps private landowners, farmers and ranchers conserve, maintain and improve natural resources and the environment.    

Plavak joined the Earth Team and learned about wetlands, the NRCS Wetlands Reserve Program (WRP) and worked with NRCS conservationists on soil-saving and water-enhancing projects.  She eventually became responsible for updating the wetlands restoration specifications for six WRP projects totaling over 1,000 acres and preparing a detailed agreement and construction bid package for a 350-acre WRP project.  Plavak’s volunteer work is credited with saving the government money and allowing the WRP project to be completed on time. 

Plavak was the 2009 Earth Team Individual Volunteer Award winner for NRCS. 

Michele Eginoire, national Earth Team volunteer coordinator, says all Earth Team volunteers make a difference.  “We try to tailor our volunteer jobs to our volunteers’ likes and abilities.  Their work can include field work, administrative support and conservation education.  Our volunteers are a diverse group 14 years and older who support NRCS conservation efforts,” said Eginoire.  “Every Earth Team volunteer makes a contribution and every volunteer has the potential to improve the land as much as Amy Plavak.” 

NRCS has over 3,000 offices nationwide.  To learn more about being an Earth Team volunteer in your area, call 1-888-LANDCARE.

Earth Team Volunteer Amy Plavak is credited with improving the environment and saving the government money near her Oregon home.
Earth Team Volunteer Amy Plavak is credited with improving the environment and
saving the government money near her Oregon home.