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Celebrating the Highbush Blueberry’s Centennial

A winter-hardy, black-fruited blueberry

Nocturne, a winter-hardy, black-fruited blueberry developed by ARS. USDA-ARS photo by Mark Ehlenfeldt.

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.

You probably don’t think there’s anything special about picking up a tub of fresh blueberries at the store or the farmers market—the quality of the product, the freshness and the convenience of it all. If only you had to go pick the fruit from the wild yourself!

Up until 1911, blueberries had to be picked from the wild, and bushes were dug from the wild that might or might not survive when transplanted elsewhere. True domestication—reproduction at the will of the grower and breeding to improve desirable traits—was beyond reach until USDA botanist Frederick Coville unlocked a longstanding mystery in 1910. Read more »

Loan Applications Continue at USDA Farm Service Agency

Matt McCue and Lily Schneider of Shooting Star CSA, an organic farm in California

Matt McCue and Lily Schneider of Shooting Star CSA, an organic farm in California, received an FSA loan. Their operation is chemical and pesticide free and they rely on practices that reduce impact on the environment.

What do siblings Kenna and Peyton Krahulik, organic farmers Lily Schneider and Matt McCue, and livestock producer Brian Morgan have in common? They worked closely with USDA’s Farm Service Agency (FSA) to obtain loans, giving them the working capital they needed to grow or maintain their operation.

FSA makes and guarantees loans to family farmers and ranchers to promote, build and sustain family farms in support of a thriving agricultural economy. It’s an important credit safety net that has sustained our nation’s hard working farm families through good and bad times. Read more »

Mapping Appalachia’s Local Food System: 900 Entrepreneurs At A Time

Chef Jakob Reed

Chef Jakob Reed of Albany Bistro in Decatur, Alabama

The following guest blog by Earl Gohl, Federal Co-Chair, Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC) highlights some of the innovative work of one of USDA’s frequent partners supporting locally-led economic and community development in the 13 state Appalachian region. ARC is a leader in place-based development strategies.

An analysis of the most recent USDA Census of Agriculture determined that direct market farm sales grew three times as fast in Appalachia as compared to the rest of the country and that Appalachian consumers spend more per capita on direct farms sales than the rest of the country.

Farmers are not the only entrepreneurs fueling Appalachia’s growing local food economy. From Northern Mississippi to southern New York, a bounty of entrepreneurs, including bakers, brewers and butchers as well as chefs, retailers and farmers, are contributing to the Region’s local food system. Read more »

Seizing the TechHire Opportunity in Rural America

Cross-posted from the WhiteHouse.gov blog:

There’s an exciting trend underway across the country. More and more, major companies are leaving offshore hubs and turning to rural communities in America for high-quality IT talent. In addition to a narrowing wage gap and higher quality of work in these rural areas, the employee attrition rate in rural areas of the U.S. is less than half the rate typically seen in offshore locations.

The Obama Administration has supported the growth of IT jobs in rural America with unprecedented investments in rural broadband and other key infrastructure, and through innovative efforts like the White House TechHire Initiative, a multi-sector initiative and call to action to rapidly train Americans with the skills they need for well-paying, open tech jobs. Read more »

FAS Capacity-Building Efforts in Central America Yield Benefits There and at Home

Pablo Chacón, a Guatemalan farmer

Pablo Chacón, a Guatemalan farmer, takes notes at the CATIE dairy farm and research center in Turrialba, Costa Rica, where he is studying agroforestry on an FAS-funded scholarship.

Pablo Chacón, a young Guatemalan farmer who is studying agroforestry at the Tropical Agricultural Research and Higher Education Center (CATIE) in Turrialba, Costa Rica, can now show the people in his home community how livestock grazing and hardwood forests can co-exist and prosper. Earlier this month, he told me and other Foreign Agricultural Service (FAS) visitors to CATIE that the education he gained from his FAS-funded scholarship to CATIE has equipped him to be a change maker.

“CATIE’s research in the tropics shows that degraded lands can be restored using combined forest and pastoral production systems,” Chacón said. “The benefits of trees in pastures are clear: The shade helps reduce stress in animals during the dry season, keeps moisture in the soil and retains the strength of pastures during the dry season.” Read more »

A Momentous Change is Underway in the Egg Case

Hens outside

Less than 30 million of the over 300 million hens that lay our nation’s eggs are raised in cage free systems. AMS is committed to working with the U.S. egg industry to facilitate their efforts to address this challenge.

Have you been to a supermarket to buy a carton of eggs lately?  If so, you may have found an array of food marketing claims on the packages.  All natural, organic, cage-free, pasture-raised, free range, non-GMO, raised without antibiotics, Omega-3 enriched and vegetarian-fed diet are just a small sample of the many claims consumers might see in the egg case. The modern food shopper is inundated by choice.

From its inception, the role of AMS has been to facilitate an efficient, fair, and competitive marketing system to benefit producers and consumers.  One of the ways AMS accomplishes this is by establishing and applying grade standards to different agricultural products. Terms such as “Grade A” and “Large” have become a trusted part of the American egg vocabulary, helping both farmers and consumers with descriptive labels. Other marketing terms that now appear on egg cartons have evolved to reflect consumers’ demand to understand things like where the eggs come from, how chickens were raised and who raised them. Read more »