Virginia State University used a NIFA grant to purchase facilities where they teach aquaponics and urban farming. The operation allows them to both raise fish and grow vegetables in a symbiotic environment. (iStock image)
Money’s tight in Petersburg, Va., and sometimes it’s difficult to put nutritious food on the table. Like many other cities in America, Petersburg has found its way onto USDA’s list of food deserts – meaning that residents have limited access to fresh, healthy, and affordable food.
Virginia State University has found a way to fill the void with a hands-on program that teaches students how to successfully sustain urban farming operations and helps put affordable nutritious food on the tables of community residents. Read more »
Fields-Johnson rotates his goats and sheep through the thinned stands to browse on honeysuckle and other understory vegetation. (Photo courtesy of Tom Ward and Colleen Rossier)
Throughout his life, Chris Fields-Johnson has been keenly aware of the need to preserve the natural landscapes, which provide us with clean air to breathe, water to drink and food to eat. As a graduate student of soil science at Virginia State and Polytechnic University, a forestry undergraduate, a student of Tom Brown, Jr.’s Tracker School and a former employee of the Virginia Department of Forestry, he also knows much of the science behind soil restoration and forestry. These experiences have given him a strong desire to turn his knowledge into action by managing land in the most beneficial way possible.
To make this dream a reality, he began converting a 250-acre loblolly pine plantation in Scottsville, Virginia., into a goat and sheep silvopasture system that resembles a pine savanna landscape. Silvopasture combines trees with forage and livestock production. The trees are managed for high-value sawlogs and, at the same time, provide shade and shelter for livestock and forage, reducing livestock stress and sometimes improving forage quality. Fields-Johnson and friends have spent many weekends thinning and pruning trees by hand, conducting controlled burns, fighting invasive plants and experimenting with forage establishment while they also learn how to raise goats and sheep. Read more »
USDA’s revised guide, Procuring Local Foods for Child Nutrition Programs can help schools find, buy and serve more regional offerings.
Fruits and vegetables are at the top of USDA’s back to school list, and just in time for the new school year, the Pilot Project for Procurement of Unprocessed Fruits and Vegetables is making it easier for schools in eight states to purchase them. The 2014 Farm Bill authorizes the pilot in not more than eight states participating in the National School Lunch Program, and provides them with an opportunity to better access nutritious foods. The pilot also helps create and expand market opportunities for our nation’s fruit and vegetable producers, opening the door for a variety of vendors, small growers, food hubs and distributors to supply unprocessed fruits and vegetables to participating schools.
So far, five states (California, Connecticut, Michigan, New York and Oregon) have spent over $600,000 through the pilot from February through June 2015. Several California districts contracted a produce distributor to connect local and regional producers with schools to receive peaches, cauliflower, apricots, and kale from their state. Students in Oregon are chomping on pears from the Pacific Northwest, while many Connecticut and New York schools are feasting on Macintosh apples from Massachusetts orchards and Empire apples from New York. Virginia, Washington, and Wisconsin were also selected for the pilot and will begin receiving deliveries of fruits and vegetables in the coming months. Read more »
It’s County Fair Time at the USDA Farmers Market at Night. Join us on Friday, August 21, from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. in Washington, D.C., near the National Mall!
August is prime time for city, county and state agricultural fairs! These fun summertime events bring communities together. Farmers markets also are an increasingly popular community gathering spot.
So, what would happen if the fair theme was combined with a farmers market? You would get County Fair Time at the USDA Farmers Market at Night on Friday, August 21, from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. in Washington, D.C., near the National Mall!
USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) has managed the weekly daytime USDA Farmers Market, at 12th and Independence Avenue, S.W., in Washington, D.C. for 20 years. The daytime market is open on Fridays from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m., May through October. Read more »
Lilian Salerno, Administrator, Rural Development Rural Business-Cooperative Services (third from right), met with the Sacramento County of Governments and other partners to discuss food hubs in the greater Sacramento area. Rural Development’s new report Running a Food Hub: Lessons Learned From the Field, is part of USDA’s ongoing commitment to food hub development and other local food enterprises.
Since 2009, USDA has invested in 29,100 local food opportunities, including food hubs, small scale processing and farmers markets across all 50 states and the US territories. These investments include over 12,000 loans and micro-loans to small-scale producers who often sell products locally and over 13,000 high tunnels (low-cost covered structures that extend the growing season and make locally-grown products available later in the year).
However, as with any investment, the success of a business depends not just on an infusion of capital, but also on good planning. Technical assistance services such as feasibility studies, business planning, financing strategies, supply chain logistics, marketing, and guidance with the policy and regulatory environment are equally important. Read more »
Lee and Linda Marshall harvest herbs in the church’s seasonal high tunnel (NRCS photo by Barbara Bowen).
One high tunnel can’t feed the world, but it can make a world of difference in providing fresh fruits and vegetables to those with limited access to healthy foods. These plastic covered structures use natural sunlight to create more favorable conditions for vegetables and specialty crops. And for the 31st Street Baptist Church in Richmond, Va., one high tunnel has given them a new identity as an urban farm and model for community agriculture.
The church’s senior pastor, Dr. Morris Henderson, began this new chapter in 2009 when he expanded their small garden to meet a growing need. The local soup kitchen had closed and members of the congregation were bringing their own food to help the local poor and homeless. During this time, Vernon Heath, a small farm agent with Virginia State University, suggested the pastor contact the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) to submit an application for a seasonal high tunnel. Read more »