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Posts tagged: New Media

USDA Breaks Ground on People’s Garden in Delaware

Brad Fisher, USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service

On May 20, 2010, the USDA State Office in Dover, Delaware broke ground on its People’s Garden, answering Secretary Vilsack’s call to plant such gardens at Department offices around the globe. The Secretary established the People’s Garden project in February 2009 to commemorate Abraham Lincoln’s 200th birthday.  (See the groundbreaking on YouTube.)  Since then, more than 300 People’s Garden have blossomed across the country.

The office has 80 Natural Resources Conservation Service, Farm Service Agency, Rural Development and Information Technology Services employees. The employees will volunteer their time to help care for and harvest the garden. The garden’s bounty will help needy families in the area and provide a hands-on learning experience for second graders at North Dover Elementary School.

And not only does the Delaware garden grow food, it grows partnerships, as well. At the ceremony, NRCS Chief Dave White pointed to the cooperative efforts by federal and state agencies, schools, and private conservation groups to make the garden a reality.

Rural Development Deputy Under Secretary Cheryl Cook told the crowd that this and other People’s Garden’s are important to making people aware of where their food comes from and encouraging smart eating.

Michael Scuse, Deputy Under Secretary for Farm and Foreign Agricultural Services, affirmed that People’s Gardens educate the public about the work that farmers do every day to provide food, fiber, and fuel. 

NRCS Delaware State Conservationist Russell Morgan said that he sees People’s Gardens as ways to teach lessons in taking better care of natural resources.

One phase of the People’s Garden at the USDA office in Dover is the expansion of a rain garden. Storm water runoff and flooding are top concerns in the Delaware Estuary because of the damage that can occur when large volumes of rainwater occur.

Learn more about the People’s Garden movement at

NRCS employees dig out paths and install borders and landscape fabric.

NRCS employees dig out paths and install borders and landscape fabric.

The garden is in the final construction stages. Only a few more steps to complete before the ground is ready for spring planting.

The garden is in the final construction stages. Only a few more steps to complete before the ground is ready for spring planting.

Mobilize to Make a Difference – Join an Apps for Healthy Kids Game Jam this Weekend!

A few short weeks week ago we announced an exciting partnership with the International Game Developers Association (IGDA) to kindle innovation and creativity and offering unique opportunities for Apps for Healthy Kids contestants.  Now the excitement is about to begin.

Later today, Game Jams will kick off nationwide to provide support and feedback for designers and developers as they create games and apps with a nutrition focus for the competition. The game jams will draw game developers, graphic artists, and local youth together to brainstorm ideas and produce video game prototypes from scratch in just 48 hours.

Adding to the buzz, U.S. Chief technology Officer Aneesh Chopra will be on hand this afternoon at the George Mason University Game Jam to open the weekend of innovation. Tune in later this evening to watch his call to action and get the creativity flowing. His opening remarks will be streamed live at 5pm here. 

As many of you followers of the game scene know, the Apps for Healthy Kids competition challenges software developers, game designers, students, and other innovators to develop innovative, fun, and engaging tools and games that help kids and their parents eat better and be more physically active. Prizes totaling $60,000 will be awarded to the entries that are voted the best by a panel of expert judges.

This weekend’s jams will offer a great opportunity for amateur and professional developers to share ideas and make great progress on their submissions. The prototypes created during the jams will be displayed at the sixth annual Games for Health Conference, May 26-27, 2010 in Boston, further refined, and submitted to the Apps for Healthy Kids competition before the June 30th deadline.

Current Game Jam locations include:


  • Boston, MA: Microsoft New England Research and Development, 1 Memorial Drive, Cambridge MA. Runs Friday 5pm-9pm, Saturday 9am-9pm, Sunday 9am-6pm. Meals will be provided, but computers will not (so bring your own if possible). Boston announcement is here, if interested visit their registration page. For questions, contact the Boston organizer: Darius Kazemi (
  • Seattle, WA: Art Institute of Seattle, 2501 Elliott Ave, Seattle WA – Room 102 (enter at the main entrance on Alaskan Way, other entrances may be locked). Runs Friday 4pm-midnight, Saturday 9am-midnight, Sunday 9am-4pm. Be aware there is only street parking and paid garages in the area, so plan accordingly. Seattle organizer: Rusel DeMaria (
  • Orlando, FL: ZeeGee Games, 1 Purlieu Place, Winter Park FL. Runs Friday 6pm-10pm, Saturday 10am-10pm, Sunday 10am-5pm. If interested, visit their Facebook page for more info and to RSVP. Orlando organizer: Dustin Clingman (
  • Pittsburgh, PA: Entertainment Technology Center at Carnegie Mellon University, 700 Technology Drive. Runs Saturday 10am through Sunday 10am (overnight), with an additional Physical Game Jam from Sunday 10am-4pm. If interested, visit their event page to sign up. Pittsburgh organizer: Jia Ji (
  • Albany, NY: Troy Boys and Girls Club, 1700 Seventh Ave, Troy NY. Runs Friday 6pm-11pm, Saturday 10am-11pm, Sunday 10am-4pm. If interested, visit their event website for more info. New York organizer: Ian Stead (
  • Fairfax, VA: George Mason University, Fairfax Campus, Art and Design Building RM 1018. Starts Friday at 5pm. Participants should bring their own computers if possible. Meals will be provided. Fairfax organizers: Joel Gonzalez ( and Scott Martin (
  • Athens, GA: Mowerks Learning, 130 Ware Street, Unit A. Athens organizer: Jordan Lynn (


So get jammin’!

By Amanda Eamich, Director of New Media, USDA

Health Games Challenge Logo

Come One, Come All – The People’s Garden Healthy Garden Workshop Series Kicks Off the 2010 Gardening Season

By Angie Harless, USDA Executive Master Gardener

On May 7, The People’s Garden launched the first workshop in its healthy garden series summer program in DC.  This year the summer series was expanded and offers a full range of programming for both kids and adults.  “The People’s Garden” Healthy Garden Workshops are open to everyone and demonstrate how easy it is to grow a sustainable garden no matter where you live.  Leading experts from within and outside of USDA will lend their experience throughout this growing season to help you create and manage your garden from the ground up.

The Healthy Garden Workshops will primarily be for adults, while the newest edition to the series, Growing Healthy Kids, will be offered for young people.  Beginning May 7, the Healthy Garden Workshops will occur rain or shine every Friday from noon to 1 p.m. in the garden or under a tent on the north lawn of USDA’s Jamie L. Whitten building.  Each month of the healthy garden series will focus on a different theme:  May: gardening from the ground up; June: celebrating pollinators; July: plant diseases; and August: types of gardens.  Pre-registration will be required for this series as seats will be limited to 50 participants.  To reserve a seat, those interested in participating in the workshop must call (202) 690-3989 to register between the hours of 9 a.m. and 4 p.m., Monday through Friday.   

The Growing Healthy Kids youth series will be hands-on learning programs based upon the Junior Master Gardener curriculum.  There are three programs: Plant Pals, Tops or Bottoms and U-B the Judge.  Plant Pals will help curious-minded children discover why certain plants are better neighbors in the garden the others.  Tops or Bottoms will encourage young gardeners to use their knowledge of plant structures in identifying which part of the plant is eaten.  And U-B the Judge will give youth a chance to evaluate fruits and vegetables based on color, texture, taste and smell.  Each program is 60 minutes long and will be held outside every Wednesday at 10 a.m., noon and 2 p.m. from May through October.  Youth programs are cancelled if it rains.  Space is limited to 30 youth and they must be at least 5 years old. Call (202) 708-0082 to register a group for one of the three programs. 

The summer program guide is available online. Follow us on Twitter for real-time updates, check out photos and join our Facebook page!

Your Food Environment Atlas

As I write, the streets of D.C. are piled with snow, Federal government offices in the area are closed, and the city has come to a slip-sliding standstill.  Throughout the storm, my colleagues from USDA’s Economic Research Service have been working to get Your Food Environment Atlas up and running for the launch of First Lady Michelle Obama’s campaign against childhood obesity.  Working on this mapping tool, which measures a community’s food-choice landscape, has been particularly interesting as the piles of record snowfall continue to obscure our own food landscape.

I have always known that my food environment plays an important role in the types of foods I feed myself and my family. Never has this been more true: my family’s home is without power, the neighborhood streets are undrivable, and our food environment has been whittled down to the restaurants and ready-to-eat food establishments we can walk to and that still have food.  These few days have given me a taste for what many experience daily: limited cooking options and limited access to healthy foods.

For children in low-income families living in neighborhoods with few healthy food options, unhealthy diets may be an unavoidable reality of everyday life, not just snow-storm life.  For the thousands of children who are obese or overweight, this reality has serious health consequences.  In recognition of the toll the obesity epidemic is having on the health and well-being of our children, the First Lady has challenged the nation to move to end childhood obesity in a generation.  In recognition of the influences that the food environment has on diet quality, she has challenged researchers across government to examine the interaction of factors influencing food and lifestyle choices.

USDA’s Your Food Environment Atlas is an online mapping tool that compares the food environment of U.S. counties—the mix of factors that together influence food choices, diet quality, and general fitness among residents.  The Atlas contains 90 food environment indicators—most at the county level—allowing Atlas users to visualize and compare on a map how counties fare on each of the indicators. This new online tool is designed to stimulate research and inform policymakers as they address the nexus between diet and public health.

What can the Atlas tell us? Think about what the First Lady has said about the obstacles people often face in taking responsibility for adopting healthy habits of diet and fitness. Access, affordability, and convenience affect the ability to provide healthy meals for children and other household members. Proximity to full-service grocery stores affects both access and affordability, and it’s one of the many indicators the Atlas measures, including proximity among low-income residents. The Atlas shows the concentration of convenience food stores, fast-food establishments, full-service restaurants, and farmers’ markets in a county.

A variety of indicators measured in the Atlas specifically affect affordability. Examples are the price ratios of selected healthy foods to snack foods and even the price of low-fat milk. The food and financial needs among a county’s population are also part of the picture: data on these include median household income, poverty rates, and eligibility of residents for food programs like school lunches and SNAP (formerly the Food Stamp Program).

We can find information in the Atlas on per capita consumption of foods from both the healthy and not-so-healthy side of the diet ledger, including fruit and vegetables, soft drinks, and fats. And the Atlas measures some key health outcomes like diabetes and obesity rates.

Michelle Obama and others have emphasized the importance of exercise as well as healthy diets in curbing childhood obesity and promoting general fitness. Parks, playgrounds, and after-school sports can be sidelined if a community lacks funds. This is another area Your Food Environment Atlas addresses, with data that include counties’ recreation and fitness facilities, and natural amenities.

All of these components of a community’s food environment are just a sample of the 90 indicators the Atlas contains, covering demographic, health, and food access characteristics. While particularly useful to researchers, the Atlas is available to the general public on the ERS website. Anyone using this tool can, for example, create a map and compare counties by prevalence of adult diabetes, and then see how they compare in geographic access to grocery stores. And for each county, users can view all the county-level indicators that contribute to its food environment profile.

The data in Your Food Environment Atlas document the situations of real people in real communities. We hope this web tool will contribute to a national conversation on food choices and diet quality, and on some of the social and economic conditions to consider when searching for solutions to diet-related public health issues.

Your food Environment Atlas Screenshot
The Atlas is available on the web at

Elise Golan, USDA’s Economic Research Service

Seeking Game-Changing Solutions to Childhood Obesity

By Aneesh Chopra – Federal Chief Technology Officer

Yesterday the White House Office of Science & Technology Policy (OSTP) and the U.S. Department of Agriculture hosted a workshop to gather insight from leading experts in the fields of gaming and technology to inform the development of a nutrition game-design challenge. The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food, Nutrition, and Consumer Services is preparing to launch the Innovations for Healthy Kids Challenge, a call to American entrepreneurs, software developers, and students to use a recently released USDA nutrition data set to create innovative, fun, and engaging web-based learning applications that motivate kids, especially “tweens” (aged 9-12) and their parents, to eat more healthfully and be more physically active.

Thirty-one experts joined the meeting—some via teleconference—to offer their knowledge and experience related to game design, entertainment technology, social media, and skill contests, in reaction to a previously circulated concept paper outlining key components of the contest.

Our intention here is to invite you to join this discussion. Here are some of the major design-related themes, that emerged from the Workshop, around which we’d like to get input from you:

  • Goal: We discussed the potential for games – powered by nutrition data – to change behavior in our target segment (“tweens” between the ages of 9-12 and their parents). Design questions focused on whether the contest should result in a finished, high-impact game or one that continually evolves over time (“gaming as a service”). How would you recommend we address this question in the design of our contest?

  • Incentives: We discussed government limitations on the size of the prize ($3,000 – a purse we’ve awarded in public service announcement contests as well). Design questions focused on the degree to which other stakeholders might supplement the prize with privately raised funds; develop new markets for educational games, including schools, parents, and after-school programs; and recognize finalists at the White House or other venues. What incentives would you recommend we deploy to maximize high quality participation?

  • Final Product: We acknowledged a spectrum of potential final products– including “back of the envelope” ideas, game story boards, working prototypes, and market-ready “final” products. In addition, we discussed the possibility of multiple phases to capture the breadth and quality of potential submissions (perhaps an early round seeking top ideas/story boards to be developed into games in round two). How should we design the competition in a manner that inspires and empowers both professionals willing to volunteer hours to the competition and students willing to build a game that doubles as a semester class assignment? How do we address the myriad game product categories – from casual games to fully developed titles?

  • Your Commitment: A great deal of the conversation focused on how individuals might complement the official competition with commitments they could offer from their respective positions – whether it would be incorporating nutrition data in already-developed games, faculty assigning class time towards building nutrition games, or organizations spreading the word about the contest. How might you be willing to help? Please post any commitments your firm, foundation, school or other organization might be willing to offer as we build a national movement to address childhood obesity.

Thank you in advance for your ideas on these important questions.

Aneesh Chopra is Chief Technology Officer of the United States

Happy Leftovers Day!

We hope you had a joyful (and food-safe) holiday meal. We suspect that like most of us you’ll be enjoying the goodies for days to come.

One highlight of our run-up to the holiday was our live Facebook chat on food safety on Nov. 12. USDA food safety expert Diane Van took questions on a variety of topics, but there were quite a few about handling leftovers.

A sampling of Diane’s answers that will help you stay food-safe for some folks’ favorite meals of the holiday season:

  • Put your food away within two hours of serving it. Don’t leave it out on a buffet longer than that to pick at!
  • Store the leftovers in small, shallow containers so they cool quickly.
  • Store the turkey and stuffing separately.
  • Reheat leftovers until the internal temperature reaches 165 degrees F or until the food is hot and steaming.
  • Eat leftovers within three to four days – use gravy within one to two days. If you have more than you can eat within that period, freeze as soon as possible.
  • When frozen to 0 degrees F, leftovers will keep for two to six months for the best quality. That’s right: Your Thanksgiving leftovers can keep at least … the Super Bowl.

For more information on safe handling of leftovers, you can listen to our “Safe Handling of Leftovers” podcast. You can read the script here.

If you have other questions about handling leftovers—or any aspect of food safety—you can check in with USDA’s Ask Karen virtual representative at  The question-and-answer service is available 24/7.

You can also call USDA’s Meat and Poultry Hotline at 1-888-674-6854. It’s open Monday through Friday 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Eastern Time. Expert staff can take questions on any food safety topic.