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May 2015

Streamlined Process Helps Farmers Put Conservation on the Ground in Record Time

The USDA (NRCS), is always looking for ways to do things better -- whether it is how to conserve more soil on a farming operation or how to streamline internal business processes.

Recently, NRCS made vast improvements to its grants and agreements process making it easier, more timely and efficient for partners to work with us on locally-led conservation projects.

USDA Goes All in for Produce Safety Outreach

For the produce industry, the summer and fall of 2015 is more than a chance to share a new season of crops with customers. It’s when several of the (FDA) (FSMA) laws will become final. FSMA will make significant changes to the country’s food safety laws, including the first-ever and a more proactive approach to preventing foodborne illnesses. My colleagues at the USDA’s (AMS) have been working hard with our partners to expand our outreach efforts about food safety to .

One of the ways that we help the industry prepare for compliance is through a successful partnership with Cornell University and the FDA via the (PSA).  We recently renewed this partnership through a Cooperative Agreement that enables the three entities to devote funds for training and outreach events. Since 2010, AMS has enjoyed working with our colleagues to engage with produce growers, industry members, regulators, and extension educators through working committees, public meetings, focus groups, and webinars.

Key Sage Grouse Habitat Protected in Colorado through a Conservation Easement Partnership

The recent conservation easement on the Yust Ranch in northwestern Colorado represents not only the preservation of a five-generation ranching entity, it also illustrates the vitality of partnerships that expand federal programs and initiatives aimed at protecting wildlife habitat, particularly for species of concern.

USDA Creates On-site Application Acceptance Program to Recruit Highly Talented and Diverse Candidates

USDA’s (AMS) is driven to recruit and hire new and diverse talent into our workforce. Recently, our agency participated in USDA’s innovative on-site application acceptance events targeting (HBCUs), (HSIs), and veterans as part of USDA’s overall recruitment strategy in which all were welcome to apply. USDA’s on-site application acceptance events use the federal , which offer students and recent graduates a path to federal careers.

We kicked off these events early this year during the International Production and Processing Expo (IPPE) in Atlanta, Ga., the world’s largest annual poultry, meat and feed industry tradeshow. IPPE drew hundreds of students for its career fair from about 30 colleges and universities from around the country, including numerous HBCUs and HSIs. Many students came to AMS’ on-site application acceptance event at the nearby Sam Nunn Federal Building, where we received dozens of applications from a highly diverse and talented group of students. Among the applicants that AMS hired at that event was Marcus Peebles, who is now a Procurement Technician with our Commodity Procurement Program. We also learned from this experience and made several process improvements for our next on-site application acceptance event, which occurred at the American Indian Higher Education Consortium (AIHEC) student conference in Albuquerque, N.M.

Managing for Wildfires Every Single Day of the Year

On June 9, 2012, a lightning strike sparked a wildfire in the mountains west of Fort Collins, Colorado, burning into the . The High Park fire burned over 87,000 acres and remains the third largest fire in recorded Colorado history, with more than 250 homes destroyed.

Matt Champa, assistant prescribed fire specialist with the of the Arapaho and Roosevelt National Forests, remembers clearly the two and a half weeks the High Park Fire burned. Matt was among the individuals actively working on the ground to suppress and contain the fire; at its height, more than 2,000 people were involved in the suppression effort.

Surf's High for a Desert Plant

When you hear “surf’s up,” the last thing you might think of is a desert shrub called “guayule” (pronounced “why-oo-lee”). But technology that began with a partnership between USDA’s Agricultural Research Service (ARS) and a small Arizona-based company, Yulex Corporation, recently put wetsuits made with this daisy relative on the market that are more elastic and more comfortable than those made with conventional, petroleum-based neoprene.

The wetsuits were created with Yulex’s guayule natural rubber by Patagonia, a high-end outdoor clothing company, which currently produces and sells the wetsuits.  They are also available from other retailers. The wetsuit—with its 60/40 guayule and petroleum-based neoprene blend—is proving to be popular. Surfer Magazine said: “It’s the cashmere of wetsuit material.”

Summer Meal Programs Offer Nutrition, Combat Hunger for America's Children and Teens

Cross-posted from the :

Summer vacation is something all kids look forward to, but unfortunately doesn’t take a vacation. More than 21 million American children and teens depend on free or reduced-price school meals during the school year, and when school cafeterias close, many of them lose their most important source of balanced nutrition and are at risk of going hungry.

That’s why the (USDA) and dedicated partners like are working to provide to hungry kids throughout the summer. We know that children are particularly vulnerable to hunger and poor nutrition during this time. And our are well-poised to help fill this gap, serving as an important source of nutritious food for children and youth during the long summer break.

MyPlate Broadens its Reach

As part of Asian American and Pacific Islanders Heritage Month, the Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion (CNPP) is pleased to announce the translation of the resource and from English into . The , of the Department of Health and Human Services (OMH/HHS), and CNPP co-branded the translated tip sheet and are working together to promote these newly translated documents to ensure that individuals, nutrition and health professionals, and other community leaders have access to these helpful resources.

“Because the nation’s Asian American and Pacific Islander population is incredibly diverse, the new MyPlate resources will be useful tools to reach an even wider audience with easy-to-understand nutrition guidance,” said Capt. Samuel Wu, Asian American, Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander Health Policy Lead for the Office of Minority Health.

Using Open Data in Creative Ways to Solve Problems

Want to make better use of forest, park and trail datasets? Try a hackathon. A hackthon is an event in which and others involved in and , including , and , collaborate intensively on projects. Hackathons typically last between a day and a week. Some hackathons are intended simply for educational or social purposes, although in many cases the goal is to create usable software. This popular forum for collaborative innovation has become an important method for developing modern solutions for government interactions.  This particular hackathon occurred on April 11-12 in Washington, D.C., and involved the USDA and the Department of Interior (DOI) for the myAmerica Developers Summit. The summit is an initiative supporting the National Travel and Tourism Strategy by improving access to information about federal lands and waters so it’s easier for people to discover and experience America’s natural and national treasures.

Technology Helping us Follow the Food Path

It is amazing to see such an array of meats available in today’s grocery stores. Traveling across the country in my role at USDA, I hear from so many folks that want to know where their beef comes from, what the animal was fed or how was it raised.  I also know farmers have a real commitment to their crops and animals and are happy to share their stories with customers.

Farmers markets are one way for small producers to tell consumers directly where their products were grown or raised.  However, mid-sized farms face unique challenges as they are too large to dedicate the time and resources to participate in farmers markets, but too small to compete effectively in large commercial markets.  New technology could make connecting consumers to mid-sized farmers easier no matter where meat is purchased.