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Returning Veterans Put Down Roots with USDA

USDA Rural Business Services Administrator Sam Rikkers enjoys a honey crisp apple from Leffel Roots Orchard in Eau Claire, Wisconsin

USDA Rural Business Services Administrator Sam Rikkers enjoys a honey crisp apple from Leffel Roots Orchard in Eau Claire, Wisconsin

After 21 years of dedicated service in the United States Air Force, Jim and Laura Leffel looked to establish their “forever home.”  Both natives of the Midwest, they moved to a small farm south of Eau Claire, Wisconsin to plant their roots, quite literally.  Laura and Jim are now owners of Leffel Roots Apple Orchard, a 40 acre property that includes 2,500 apple trees and an on-site store where they sell bakery items, jams, cider, honey and more.

With the help of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the Leffels will be able to expand their product lines further.  Last month, I visited their orchard with Wisconsin Congressman Ron Kind to announce the Leffels were among 325 recipients of Value Added Producer Grant (VAPG) funding totaling over $45 million.  Read more »

Advocacy and Outreach – Keys to Success in Serving Farmers, Ranchers and the Future of Agriculture in Underserved Communities

Ribbon Cutting for the Socially Disadvantage Farmers and Ranchers Policy Research Center at Alcorn State University

Ribbon Cutting for the Socially Disadvantage Farmers and Ranchers Policy Research Center at Alcorn State University

Day in, day out, the Department of Agriculture (USDA) brings programs to many farmers and ranchers as well as opportunities to students. As I meet with farmers, ranchers and USDA interns, a sense of great appreciation and anticipation wells up for the future of agriculture. One of the USDA offices that serves these farmers and students is the Office of Advocacy and Outreach (OAO). OAO staff connect with farmers, community organizers, veterans, educators and students to bring opportunities and services.

OAO works with community-based organizations to ensure access to USDA programs and services for underserved and limited-resource communities and farmers. A major program is the Outreach and Assistance for Socially Disadvantaged and Veteran Farmers and Ranchers Program (also known as the 2501 Program).  Forty-five projects from organizations representing 25 States were awarded $8.8 million in 2016. This included a second year of $400,000 for the Socially Disadvantaged Farmers and Ranchers Policy Research Center at Alcorn State University. Read more »

Proud to Serve My Country

Commander Fred Cheng and Lieutenant Rob Reeves participate in an ensign raising ceremony at Resolute

Commander Fred Cheng and Lieutenant Rob Reeves participate in an ensign raising ceremony at Resolute Support headquarters in Kabul, Afghanistan on Sept. 11, 2015.

When USDA recognized the men and women who served our country at the annual USDA Veterans Day Observance, it was a special day for me. That’s because the observance, held Oct. 27, 2016, was my first as a USDA employee since returning from a Navy individual augmentee deployment to Kabul, Afghanistan in December of 2015.  

It has been more than a year since I answered the call to mobilize. Saying goodbye to your family and friends is never easy. Leaving my job at USDA was not easy, either. But I have no regrets answering that call to duty because for me– and for my fellow USDA employees who are still serving in the reserve or guard — we have great support from family, friends, and coworkers.    Read more »

New Research from FDA and FSIS Shed Light on Food Handling Behaviors in the Home

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that 1 in 6 Americans (that’s 48 million people) suffer from foodborne illnesses each year, resulting in roughly 128,000 hospitalizations and 3,000 deaths. Part of what may be contributing to these illnesses is misunderstanding of where food poisoning can come from. In fact, according to a new national telephone survey conducted by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS), 53 percent of consumers think it is “not very common” to get food poisoning because of the way food is prepared in the home. This is not true, and promoting safe food handling in the home is one way CDC, FDA and FSIS are working to reduce the rates of food poisoning nationally.

The survey, conducted periodically by FDA and FSIS since 1988, explores the public’s understanding of food safety and their food handling behaviors at home. These findings show that while consumer understand of food safety is not universal, many are beginning to understand the source of food poisoning and how they can help reduce their risk. Read more »

Local School Wellness Policy Toolkit Now Available

Nutrition education and promotion are part of a Local School Wellness Policy.

Nutrition education and promotion are part of a Local School Wellness Policy.

New resources are now available to help school districts engage parents and school staff in Local School Wellness Policy efforts.  A Local School Wellness Policy is a written document that guides school district’s efforts to establish a school environment that promotes students’ health, well-being and ability to learn.  It’s important for parents and school staff to be a part of this process so the wellness policy is representative of both the community and student’s needs.  

The Food and Nutrition Service’s Team Nutrition initiative has developed a free Local Wellness Policy Outreach Toolkit that school districts and schools can customize to communicate information about their Local School Wellness Policy to parents and staff.  The kit includes: Read more »

NIFA, Agricultural Research Tackle Society’s ‘wicked’ problems

NIFA-funded research used genetics to hornless dairy cattle.  (Image courtesy of Recombinetics)

NIFA-funded research used genetics to hornless dairy cattle. (Image courtesy of Recombinetics)

Our charge in the food and agricultural sciences is to move from evolutionary discoveries, which contribute to marginal changes over long periods of time, to revolutionary thinking to deal with ‘wicked’ problems by deploying transdisciplinary approaches that solve complex societal challenges. Similar to how the Internet-driven disruptive technologies have transformed America and the rest of the world, advances in data science, information science, biotechnology and nanotechnology can transform agriculture and our capacity to address societal challenges.

Advances in the field of genomics have helped breeders produce desirable varieties of crops and livestock and overcome challenges that had previously been undertaken via conventional breeding. For example, in the dairy industry, most cattle are mechanically or chemically dehorned early in life to protect against injury to other cattle and their handlers. To eliminate this bloody and painful process, a team of NIFA-funded researchers at Recombinetics have successfully used gene editing to introduce the hornless gene into the cells of horned bulls. While the majority of hornless cattle generated via conventional breeding produce low quality milk, gene editing offers a simple and rapid solution of generating hornless cattle that produce high quality milk. Read more »