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February 2014

Enhanced School Wellness Environments Make the Smart Choice the Easy Choice for a Healthier Next Generation

Given that many children today eat two meals a day at school, it’s vital that we make every effort to ensure that they have access to the healthy foods they need and the knowledge to make healthy choices. The proposed school wellness policy guidelines and the expansion of community eligibility announced by First Lady Michelle Obama and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack at the White House this week mark important steps forward.

We are so excited to see all the great progress that is being made in schools today.  Over 90 percent of schools are successfully meeting the new school meal standards, and participation is up in many areas of the country. As more schools, parents, and children continue to embrace healthier school meals, we are seeing great progress in areas such as Dallas, large school districts in Florida, and the city of Los Angeles, where we saw a 14 percent increase under the new standards.

College Students go Back to Elementary School to Invigorate Kids About the Outdoors

By definition, a partnership involves a relationship in which parties cooperate to advance their mutual interests. Such is the winning combination for two college students who volunteered their time to help the educate the next generation about a variety of conservation topics.

“I was surprised by how knowledgeable and sharp the kids were, and I think they may have taught me more than I taught them,” said Ryan Johnson, a senior at the . “It was a great experience, especially since I can be very shy and soft spoken. But I felt like I was able to get the kids interested in the topics and, hopefully, make an impact on the next generation of conservationists and outdoors enthusiasts.”

1890 Historically Black Land-Grant Colleges and Universities: Ensuring Access to Higher Education and Opportunity for All

Earlier this week I caught up with Tom Joyner on the to announce $35 million in grant support for high quality research, teaching and Extension activities at 1890 Historically Black Land-Grant Colleges and Universities. Tom, a graduate of Tuskegee University, and I discussed how these additional resources will help support exciting new opportunities and innovative research at 1890s institutions.

These grants are just a small piece of USDA’s nearly 125 year partnership with 1890s schools to support cutting edge research, innovation and student achievement. Since 2009 alone, USDA has awarded $647 million to 1890s schools.

In addition to highlighting the great work of these universities with Tom Joyner, I also joined Congresswoman Marcia Fudge—a champion of education and an extraordinary advocate for underserved Americans—to announce the designation of Central State University, a historically black university in Wilberforce, Ohio, as a land-grant institution.

Secretary's Column: Another Step Forward Towards a Healthier Next Generation

This week at USDA, we took several steps forward in the fight for a healthier future for our nation’s children.

On Tuesday, we rolled out new proposed guidelines that will make sure only healthy foods and beverages are allowed to be marketed to kids at school. The new guidelines will ensure that schools remain a safe place where kids can learn and where the school environment promotes healthy choices.

USDA Then and Now: Part IV

Thanks for tuning in this month to our installments of USDA Then and Now photo series on the amazing innovations that have helped rural America grow and respond to a constantly evolving agricultural landscape. Here you can see , , and .

In our fourth and final Then and Now, we look to some of our long-standing historical programs and missions then, versus how they look today in 2014.

Please keep your stories coming using !

Conservation Programs Help Woman Rancher Realize a Dream

When Ann Whitehead acquired 100 acres of agricultural land near Wellsville, Mo., it gave her the opportunity to fulfill her dream of raising cattle. Since then she has been taking advantage of technical and financial assistance from USDA’s to ensure that the land will be productive for future generations of people who might share her dream.

“I grew up on a farm, but I was more in charge of the chickens,” Whitehead said. “Raising cattle is something I always wanted to do, so I told my kids ‘I’m not getting any younger, and I’m going to do it.’”

Whitehead took advantage of the that provides funding for beginning farmers, ranchers and forest landowners associated with planning and implementing conservation measures.

It’s Said That No One can Predict the Weather, but Scientists at the Ag Outlook Forum Give it a Shot

Weather….  We all care about it. In many communities, local TV and radio weather forecasters are celebrities, and for good reason.  While we can’t do much about the weather, it affects us all every day.

During last week’s Agricultural Outlook Forum two sessions drew exceptionally large crowds.  One was the Friday afternoon “Weather and Agriculture” segment and another was the morning “Markets and Weather” presentation.  While no one can say for sure what the weather outlook will be for the 2014 summer growing season, Brad Rippey, agricultural meteorologist with USDA’s Office of the Chief Economist (OCE), Eric Luebehusen, OCE ag. meteorologist and Anthony Artusa, meteorologist with the Climate Protection Section of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration made some observations and predictions in the afternoon session.  The snowpack in the West’s Sierra Nevada is far below normal.  The Western winter wet season has been a bust, with winter precipitation less than 10 percent of average in some areas.  California, the Great Basin and southern Great Plains are in drought.  The meteorologists said California, the lower gulf coast and much of New Mexico, Arizona and Texas could see above normal temperatures and below normal precipitation in March, April and May.  According to Rippey, “We need a miracle March in 2014 to avoid major problems in California.”  The most current information is available through NOAA’s map and the

Organic 101: Ensuring Organic Integrity through Inspections

This is the fifteenth installment of the  series that explores different aspects of the .

USDA certified organic products are produced and sold around the world, many originating from over right here in the United States. The USDA organic label assures consumers that products have been produced through approved methods and that prohibited substances, like synthetic pesticides, have not been used. I am often asked how the USDA verifies organic claims, and whether organic operations are inspected.

In order to sell, label, or represent products as organic in the United States, operations must be certified. The , part of USDA’s , accredits private, foreign, and State entities called certifying agents to certify and inspect organic operations.

So how does this all work? First, the operation would apply for through a certifying agent. The certifier will ask for information including a history of substances applied to land during the previous three years, and an Organic System Plan describing the practices and substances to be used. The certifier reviews applications to verify that practices comply with USDA organic regulations, and then an inspector conducts an on-site inspection.

Soldier-Turned-Farmer Uses Rotational Grazing to Make His Minnesota Ranch Successful & Sustainable

Pete Berscheit has wanted to farm since he was five. But with three brothers interested in farming, he didn’t think the fourth-generation family farm in Todd County, Minn. would be large enough to support everyone.

So instead of farming, Berscheit joined the Army at 17, where he served for 20 years. Toward the end of his career, repeated deployments were starting to take a toll on his young family, and in 2008, he and his wife, Rosemary, decided to return to their roots.

Berscheit and his family bought a place to support a small herd of 40 Black Angus cow and calf pairs, fulfilling his nearly lifelong dream of becoming a farmer. The farm is about three miles from where he grew up in central Minnesota. The farm was a good location and was a good fit for raising a family and starting his ranch.

A Thorough Discussion about Protecting America's Forests

Agroforestry.  When you think of a forest, you don’t think of it in terms of a crop, but in many cases that’s what it is.  The house you live in, the nuts and fruit you eat all comes from trees.  Trees, with their root systems protect soils and soften the effects of wind.  They help hold water.

The Forest Products industry contributes 4.5 percent of U.S. manufacturing’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP), produces $200 billion in products a year, provides jobs for nearly 900,000 people and is one of the top ten manufacturers in 47 states. No forests, no nuts, no windbreaks, no topsoil.