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Minneapolis Students Gear up for a School Year Full of Fresh, Locally Grown Foods

MPS Jr. Iron Chef Competition with Chef Ann Kim

MPS Jr. Iron Chef Competition with Chef Ann Kim and a True Food Chef Council member

It’s that time of year – books, backpacks and a BBQ!   That’s right – Minneapolis Public Schools (MPS) is preparing for its annual Farm to School Community BBQ, a much anticipated back-to-school event that kicks off the school year.  The following guest blog features inspiring initiatives MPS has implemented to serve local foods to its 35,000 students in the district.

Since 2011, MPS has sourced fresh produce, meats, baked goods and other products from local farmers and manufacturers.  Purchasing local foods supports Minnesota farms and small businesses and provides opportunities for students to learn how their food is grown by extending farm to school efforts beyond the cafeteria and into the classroom with visits from farmers and taste-tests.

Farm to school also helps to support another USDA initiative designed to enhance school meals – the What’s Shaking? Creative Ways to Boost Flavor with Less Sodium initiative.   Using local foods means that school nutrition programs are preparing more meals from scratch, allowing them to control the amount of sodium. Farm to school gets students engaged and excited about school meals – and with the community BBQ, both kids and their families get a sneak peek at what’s going to be on the lunch menu for the new school year.

By Kate Seybold, Farm to School Coordinator, Minneapolis Public Schools

What better way to ring in the new school year than by celebrating the bounties of local produce that farmers harvest during the back-to-school season?  Minneapolis Public Schools (MPS) is hosting its Fifth Annual Farm to School Community BBQ – a community event built around fresh food, families and fun! The event brings together MPS students and their families, school staff, local farmers and vendors, True Food Chef Council members and other community partners in celebration of Minnesota Farm to School Month and our farm to school program. Read more »

Celebrate 50 Years of Protecting Animals with APHIS

A sea lion basking in the sun

A sea lion basks in the sun. Sea lions are regulated animals under the Animal Welfare Act.

Many people know that the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) is the agency tasked with administering the Animal Welfare Act (AWA).  But did you know that this is the 50th anniversary of that Act?

In 1965, a Dalmatian named Pepper was stolen from her backyard by a dealer, who then sold her to a hospital.  Pepper was used in research and subsequently died.  The public outcry was, understandably, enormous, including coverage in several major magazines.  As a result, Congress passed the Laboratory Animal Welfare Act – the precursor to the AWA – in 1966, and tasked the U.S. Department of Agriculture to ensure the health and wellness of animals used in research. Read more »

Partners in Conservation: Red Cedar Demonstration Farm Offers Hands-On Education

Mark Denk, CVTC; Dan Prestebak, Dunn County Land & Water; Katie Wantoch, UW-Extension; John Sippl, USDA-NRCS; and Leah Nichol, Dunn County Land & Water

(L to R) Mark Denk, CVTC; Dan Prestebak, Dunn County Land & Water; Katie Wantoch, UW-Extension; John Sippl, USDA-NRCS; and Leah Nichol, Dunn County Land & Water proudly promote soil health and water quality through education and demonstration at the Red Cedar Demo Farm.

In Menomonie, Wisconsin, there is a 155-acre, three-parcel farm, whose purpose is to educate and demonstrate natural resources conservation. As part of their curriculum, Chippewa Valley Technical College (CVTC) Agricultural Program students perform farm work there in an outdoor classroom environment.

“The Red Cedar Demonstration Farm gives students a hands-on opportunity to plant, scout fields, monitor growth, harvest, write nutrient plans, take soil samples. Really, it’s a full farm laboratory for students,” said John Sippl, Dunn County Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) District Conservationist. Read more »

Measuring Hazelnuts in Oregon

Yamhill variety hazelnut orchard in Oregon

This is the oldest Yamhill variety hazelnut orchard in the State of Oregon. Yamhill is a newer, disease resistant variety developed by Oregon State University. The orchard is owned by Birkemeier Farms of Canby, OR.

Few realize that Oregon produces 99 percent of the hazelnuts in the United States. That means that an accurate forecast of hazelnut production in the Beaver state assists the industry in determining marketing plans and price. To do that, USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service runs a joint project with the Hazelnut Marketing Board of Oregon, which allows us to measure the most accurate production yields and forecasts for hazelnut production possible. This project is called the Oregon Hazelnut Objective Yield Survey.

When it comes to forecasting production of a particular commodity, there are various methods we can use. Predominantly we survey growers to get their estimate of their own farm production. We combine the farmers’ responses with objective yield measurements. In brief, we use the objective yield survey to count and measure the crop prior to harvest so that we can see what kind of crop we can truly expect by the end of the growing season. Read more »

Celebrating Progress: Back to School 2016-17

Students at Yorkshire Elementary School (Va.) enjoying healthy school meals

Students at Yorkshire Elementary School (Va.) enjoy healthy school meals.

As Deputy Under Secretary, I have the honor and the pleasure of traveling to schools across the country to see our programs in action.  Through my visits, I’ve had a chance to meet with hundreds of dedicated school administrators and school nutrition professionals, hearing countless testimonials of how they strive every day to serve students nutritious foods that will help them succeed in the classroom and grow into healthy adults.  As a former school nutrition director myself, these visits are one of the most rewarding parts of my job.

Now, as students return to school and we all turn our thoughts to the year ahead, I can’t help but to be inspired by what’s to come.  More than 50 million children attend schools that participate in the National School Lunch Program and School Breakfast Program.  These students are experiencing school environments that are healthier than ever, with balanced meals, healthy snacks, nutrition education and consistent messaging about the importance of healthy eating. Read more »

Iowa Takes an Ethnic Studies Approach to 4-H

4-H’ers participating in Ujima

4-H’ers participate in Ujima, an Iowa 4-H program that reflects the positive cultural knowledge that many of the youth possess. Photo credit: Chaisson-Cardenas

In this guest blog, Iowa State 4-H Youth Development program leader John-Paul Chaisson-Cardenas takes a look at several ways 4-H is embracing the cultural diversity of its participating youth to make sure youth of color feel welcome as the U.S. student population grows more diverse.

By John-Paul Chaisson-Cardenas, Iowa State 4-H Youth Development Program Leader

While the foundational elements of 4-H—experiential learning, positive youth development, et al.—are well-suited for cross-cultural and multicultural contexts, some of the language and traditions of 4-H may not be as culturally relevant to many youth.

In 2014, Iowa 4-H began to intentionally move beyond inclusion to belonging.  We expanded on the previous work of our national partner, 4-H National Headquarters, to redevelop programs that reflect the positive cultural knowledge that many of our youth already have.  4-H National Headquarters is part of USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA), provides funding and national program leadership to 4-H. Read more »