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Posts tagged: schools

Merrigan Highlights Successful Farm-to-School Programs

When we rolled out the Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food initiative back in September, a special highlight for me was the announcement of the Farm-to-School Tactical Teams.  Through the leadership of Congress and the 2008 Farm Bill, schools can now use federal dollars to support their local farmers all the while providing students with fresh, wholesome foods that taste like they came from just around the corner (because they did!). Read more »

Iowa School District Stays Local for School Meals

As we gear up for our next Facebook chat focusing on USDA’s work surrounding farm to schools efforts, I want to share with you a story that I came across in northeastern Iowa.

KellyBetty Hare prepares local corn for Independence Community School District students Duritsa, who is the School Food Service Director of the Independence Community School District in northeastern Iowa, was asking around about sourcing locally grown foods for her school breakfasts and lunches.  (With USDA’s help, schools around the country provide low-cost or free meals to schoolchildren each day.)  In this case, Kelly was able to link up with local farmers with the assistance of her school board, community members, and a coordinator at the local farmers market.  Now she can serve fresh and local foods like sweet corn, strawberries, apples, and asparagus to her hungry students.

Of course, we here at USDA recognize that Kelly and her team had to be smart to make the leap to serving fresh and local fruits and vegetables in her schools.  While it may seem like a simple, straightforward idea, this isn’t always the case. Starting with the fact that the school year and the growing season only overlap for a few months a year in most parts of the country, Food Service folk have to do serious planning ahead to make this work.

So, as we hold up the Independence Community School District as an example that others may follow, I want to invite you to join our Facebook chat on Thursday at 3pm as we discuss how we can help make local, healthy food a daily part of our children’s lives. Become a fan of the USDA on Facebook today!

Deputy Under Secretary Praises Entrepreneurship by National FFA Students

I just returned from Indianapolis and my first National FFA Convention.  Having missed the first 82 of them, I figured it was about time to see what these folks were up to.  I grew up in a part of northern New Jersey where there was no active FFA presence and where 4-H existed to help the wealthier suburban kids who actually got ponies for Christmas learn how to care for them.

I learned to appreciate FFA while working for the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture, where the partnership with the state FFA leadership is very strong.  I was blown away to learn that the largest FFA chapter in the State actually is at W.B. Saul High School in Philadelphia. I have been to the state FFA convention and often sent others to the national convention, but I’d never seen it with my own eyes.

Picture 46,000 high school and college age students, about the same number that you would find at a major land grant university, all wearing blue jackets, all polite, all committed to this nation and to agriculture.  It was an exciting, empowering experience.

My main reason for going was to speak to ag-entrepreneurship winners and their families.  About a hundred FFA members, their families and sponsors were there.  Each winner had found some unique way to start a small business or develop an operation.  I’m proud that USDA Rural Development is a sponsor of this competition.

What I told the group was that my favorite animal is a turtle.  If you walk into my office or into my home you will see likenesses of turtles everywhere.  It’s because I was told as a girl that, like the turtle, if you don’t stick your neck out every once in awhile, you’ll never get anyplace.

My primary message to these bright, young students was to find an issue that makes you passionate and go for it.  Become a leader, but be someone who can motivate those around you.  A leader without followers is just someone going for a walk.

Finally, I told them about an exciting new program which Congress put into the new Farm Bill and is enthusiastically supported by Secretary Vilsack and by those of us here at Rural Development:  It is the Microentrepreneurship Assistance Program.  What we’re going to do is select non-profit intermediaries and provide them with funds that they can loan to people who want to start a business.  It’s perfect for the members of the FFA.  The amount to be lent is no more than $50,000 per applicant.  All the details about the program were posted in the October 7th edition of the Federal Register.  If you want to find out more or comment on the program, that’s the place to go.

You know, walking around Indianapolis and seeing all of these great young Americans from Hawaii to Puerto Rico and Florida to Alaska, all together, all motivated, gives me a great feeling, not just about agriculture and its future, but in the future of America.  Trust me, it won’t be another 83 years before I attend my next FFA convention.

Cheryl L. Cook, Deputy Under Secretary

Agriculture Education Thriving in Midwest

John Brewer, associate administrator and general sales manager for the Foreign Agricultural Service (FAS) of USDA recently paid a visit to the students of the Chicago High School for Agricultural Sciences (CHAS) to see firsthand the value of agriculture education. The school was excited to have Mr. Brewer visit the school as one of the many special events for students, who were embarking on a month full of agricultural education events including the World Food Prize in Des Moines and the 82nd Annual National FFA Convention in Indianapolis.

The mission of CHAS is to provide opportunities for diverse students from across the city to study agriculture. The school works to develop technologically proficient graduates with marketable skills as well as college-level competencies who will have the power to change the image of agriculture in urban areas. The school has approximately 600 students from all over the city who possess special talents in science and math.

USDA officials and employees have visited the school several times over the years to address the students on the role of the organization, current issues related to agriculture, and job and internship opportunities.

Mr. Brewer toured the school and spoke to a class of approximately 25 students regarding the role of FAS. Students at the school can choose from five career pathways: food science; animal science; horticultural and landscape design; agriculture finance and economics; and agricultural mechanics and technology. Mr. Brewer talked about the importance of each of these to agriculture around the world.

A group of approximately 20 students stayed after school for a roundtable discussion with Mr. Brewer. These students represented a variety of grade levels and career paths, including FFA officers. The school boasts the largest National FFA Organization chapter in the Midwest and all students at the school are members.

During the roundtable, Mr. Brewer spoke about his role at FAS and the career path that led him to his current position. Many of the students posed questions regarding current issues related to agriculture such as H1N1 and food security. The quality of their education was evident as the students were extremely informed about current agriculture issues, asking thoughtful questions and offering insightful observations during this roundtable discussion.

It is the hope that additional representatives from USDA can continue to visit schools like the CHAS to spread the message about the importance of agricultural education and the opportunities the USDA provides for those seeking a career in agriculture.

Healthy Food and Physical Activity – The Right Start to Life

Secretary Vilsack credited First Lady Michelle Obama for the beautiful weather in Washington, D.C., as the White House hosted students from seven local schools for the Healthy Kids Fair. The First Lady and USDA teamed up with local chefs and nutritionists for cooking demonstration and nutrition stations as well as physical activities led by representatives from Playworks and the local YMCA.

Before the food tastings and physical activities began, the First Lady highlighted the importance of teaching healthy habits while children are young so they make the right choices later in life. She discussed eating healthy and nutritious foods, and how physical activity is critical to overall wellbeing. “We don’t want our kids to exercise because we tell them to, we want them to exercise because it’s fun and they enjoy it,” said Mrs. Obama.

Vilsack announced the re-launch of the Healthier U.S. School Challenge that recognizes schools doing the right thing by serving healthy meals, getting junk food out of vending machines, and promoting physical activity and nutrition education. To underscore the importance of healthy, nutritious meals for our nations youth, Secretary Vilsack recalled President Obama’s first instruction when starting at the Department of Agriculture: ‘I want our children to be fed more nutritious meals.’

“It’s incumbent upon all of us to do everything we possibly can to give you a good start on life and that means making sure you are well fed,” said Vilsack. “It also means acknowledging schools that take the extra step of providing nutritious meals but that you have time in a busy school schedule for physical activity.”

After addressing the students and parents gathered on the South Lawn, the First Lady and Secretary Vilsack visited food stations to sample baked eggs and baked apples using honey made from the White House honey bees. There was also zucchini quesadillas that Mrs. Obama noted tasted a lot like pizza and an “Eat the Rainbow” station where students could sample fruits and vegetables from all corners of the globe including star fruit, jicama and pomegranates.

The First Lady challenged students at the physical activity stations by showing her skills with a hula-hoop, double dutch jump-roping and an obstacle course.

Secretary Vilsack highlights the importance of healthy, nutritious food choices and physical activity

Secretary Vilsack highlights the importance of healthy, nutritious food choices and physical activity

First Lady Michelle Obama and Secretary Vilsack sample food at the Healthy Kids Fair

First Lady Michelle Obama and Secretary Vilsack sample food at the Healthy Kids Fair

Watch videos from the day’s events on the USDA’s YouTube channel.

Bellville School Recognized for Outstanding School Nutrition Environment

USDA Under Secretary for Food, Nutrition, and Consumer Services Kevin Concannon joined elementary school students in Bellville, Texas to award their schools “Gold” in USDA’s HealthierUS School Challenge for their outstanding achievements in improving their school nutrition environments.  Their schools, West End Elementary and O’Bryant Primary School along with O’Bryant Intermediate School, which earned gold last year, are Bellville’s three elementary schools and now all HealthierUS Schools.

April Pinkham, Bellville’s Director of School Nutrition said their schools took the Challenge because they wanted “recognition for their school nutrition program and school meals in general. “She said their school meals are “healthier than they’ve ever been” and she “takes pride in contributing to the health of our Nation’s school children.”

Bellville elementary schools partake in various physical activities to teach children about being physically active.  Last year they held a Nutrition Olympics where children had the opportunity to compete in watermelon weight lifting, coconut bowling and the grapefruit shot-put.  In partnership with Kelloggs, Bellville schools will reinstate last year’s Zumba dancing program for students to enjoy again this year.