Last week, USDA celebrated National School Lunch Week from October 12 -18 with exciting local events across the country. It was a chance for USDA staff to meet with students and hear what they think of the newer, fresher options in the lunch room. It was also an opportunity for USDA officials to say “thank you” to the hardworking school food service professionals who make healthy school lunches possible.
Healthy meals at school are an essential part of every child’s health, development, and academic success. Students’ ability to learn in the classroom, grow up healthy and reach their fullest potential depends on the environment they learn in. And that is why Congress passed the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act, so that all our nation’s students can experience a healthier school environment with more nutritious options. Read more »
Members of the USDA Farm to School team in front of the USDA headquarters in Washington, DC.
Since the official start of the USDA Farm to School Program, we’ve focused on making sure schools have the tools they need to bring local products into the lunchroom and teach children where their food comes from. As October is National Farm to School Month, it seems an opportune time to take stock of the many resources available from USDA to help bring the farm to school.
One of our newest resources, Procuring Local Foods for Child Nutrition Programs, covers procurement basics — how to define local, where to find local products, and the variety of ways schools can purchase locally in accordance with regulations. The guide is complemented by a twelve-part webinar series called Finding, Buying and Serving Local Foods. Our fact sheets cover topics that range from USDA grants and loans that support farm to school activities to working with Cooperative Extension professionals to grow your program, while a brand new Farm to School Planning Toolkit offers eleven distinct chapters on everything from school gardens to menu planning, marketing and more. Read more »
Beverly Robinson, left, has worked with NRCS District Conservationist Vontice Jackson to make conservation improvements to her goat farm.
The odds were against Beverly Robinson, but she isn’t one that gives in easily. She didn’t let her newness to farming discourage her from following her dream to raise goats.
“Animals have always been a part of our lives even growing up,” Robinson said. “I developed an innate love for animals, and when I retired, I wanted to go back to one of the things I loved, which was to raise animals.”
In the eight years since she retired as a campus president and moved to Soperton, Georgia to follow her dream, Robinson bought a home and 22 acres. She formed RobinsonHouse Farms, Inc. and began her journey as a goat farmer. Read more »
Partnering for a Strong Rural Economy is a USDA Specialty
A strong rural economy benefits the whole nation. Sales of specialty crops – which include everything from fruits and vegetables to tree nuts, cut flowers and nursery crops – total nearly $65 billion per year. The success of specialty crop farmers and businesses creates opportunities for new jobs and is critical to the rural economy. That’s why my agency, USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS), is partnering with states to support the hardworking American farmers who grow these products.
This week Secretary Tom Vilsack announced millions of dollars in grant funding authorized through the 2014 Farm Bill, including $66 million in Specialty Crop Block Grants (SCBG) awarded by AMS. The goal of the SCBG program is to promote and increase opportunities for specialty crop producers by supporting projects that create new business opportunities, boost productivity and improve food safety. Every state department of agriculture receives a block grant that it can use to fund projects that support its specific priorities. This year’s specialty crop block grants fund 838 projects across all 50 states, the District of Columbia and four U.S. territories.
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This October, just like every other month during the school year, school menus will feature an array of products from local and regional farmers, ranchers, and fishermen. Kids of all ages will dig up lessons in school gardens, visit farms, harvest pumpkins, and don hair nets for tours of processing facilities. Science teachers – and English, math, and social studies instructors, too – will use food and agriculture as a tool in their classrooms, so that lessons about the importance of healthy eating permeate the school learning environment.
An investment in the health of America’s students through Farm to School is also an investment in the farmers and ranchers who grow the food and an investment in the health of local economies. In school year 2011-2012, schools purchased $386 million in local food from farmers, ranchers, fishermen, and food processors and manufacturers. And an impressive 56 percent of school districts report that they will buy even more local foods in future school years. Farm to school programs exist in every state in the country. Read more »
One of the major partners in the Sapelo Island Red Pea Project is SICARS which has a facility on Sapelo Island. NRCS photo.
Sapelo Island off the coast of Georgia has a handful of residents, some of whom make their living raising livestock, farming produce and managing forests. While the barrier island is isolated and only accessible by ferry or private boats, USDA agencies in Georgia recently held a meeting on the island to talk about available assistance.
“This workshop was a great opportunity for many of our partner agencies to come together to meet these coastal area residents, discuss their needs and provide information and assistance to a group of individuals that have worked very little with us in the past,” said Karri Honaker, a district conservationist with USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS). Read more »