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Lunchtime: Small Changes - Healthy Rewards

Welcome to Week 3 of our 5-week MyPlate New Year’s Challenge! Last week we focused on the Fruits Food Group and healthy solutions for breakfast. There are still three weeks remaining in the Challenge and it isn’t too late to join – sign up today and invite others to participate with you. This week, we will focus on the Vegetables Food Group and how small changes during lunch can help add more vegetables to your day.  The winner of the Week 3 challenge will be announced on Monday, January 23rd, so make sure you check in to see if you secured the top spot!

Family Farm Co-op in Missouri Shows Commitment to Food Safety

For more than four generations, Amish farmers in the Kansas City area have abided by a simple tenet:  farm sustainably and care for the earth to preserve their way of life for future generations.  , a cooperative of 18 Amish family farms in Missouri, is using , a new USDA audit program, to help them safeguard their future by building strong markets for the high-quality, local foods they produce. In August, the group made USDA history as the first to receive an official certification through our new GroupGAP program.

Since 2002, the has provided the traditional USDA GAP audit program to the fruit and vegetable industry. GAP is a voluntary program that verifies its participants follow and industry best practices to minimize risks of food safety hazards when producing, handling, and storing fruits, vegetables, and other specialty crops. In 2016, AMS conducted nearly 4,000 traditional GAP audits.

Philly Market Rises Up to Meet Hunger Challenge

Did you know that nearly one-third of the food available to U.S. retailers and consumers never makes it to the dining room table?  That’s 133 billion pounds of food going to waste--all of which has far-reaching impacts on food security, resource conservation, and climate change.  Experts have projected that reducing food waste by just 15 percent would provide the equivalent of enough food for more than 25 million Americans every year.

That’s why my agency, USDA’s (AMS), decided to help tackle the problem by sponsoring the .  Produce markets across the U.S. joined the friendly 90-day competition by making sure that usable fruits and vegetables were not thrown away.  While these fresh foods weren’t picture-perfect supermarket quality or simply didn’t sell, they were healthy, wholesome foods that could be made into juices, added to animal feeds, used for compost, or donated to charity.

Training Growers, Growing Trainers: Preparing for New Food Safety Requirements

Are you preparing to meet the new Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) Produce Safety rule standards?  Have you heard about Good Agricultural Practices (GAPs)?  Maybe you’ve heard that they can get buyers to notice your products and improve your access to the market place - but you need more information to know if it can work for you.

USDA is hard at work connecting growers with training and resources to support GAP certification and expand their food safety know how. We’ve made big investments in food safety education for growers in recent years, supporting projects through AMS —the Specialty Crop Block Grant Program, Federal-State Market Improvement Program, Farmers Market Promotion Program, and Local Food Promotion Program.

Fall is Here! Celebrate with Pumpkin, 5 Different Ways

Pumpkins aren’t just for Halloween! These versatile vegetables are an excellent source of vitamin A and dietary fiber. To demonstrate different ways you can incorporate this seasonal superstar, MyPlate is showcasing five easy recipes with pumpkin as the main ingredient.

MyPlate encourages you to make half your plate fruits and vegetables. People who eat more vegetables and fruits as part of an overall healthy diet are likely to have a reduced risk of some chronic diseases. Fruits and vegetables provide nutrients vital for the health and maintenance of your body. Pumpkins are full of color and are a great way to eat your veggies!

Minneapolis Students Gear up for a School Year Full of Fresh, Locally Grown Foods

It’s that time of year – books, backpacks and a BBQ!   That’s right - Minneapolis Public Schools (MPS) is preparing for its annual Community BBQ, a much anticipated back-to-school event that kicks off the school year.  The following guest blog features inspiring initiatives MPS has implemented to serve local foods to its 35,000 students in the district.

Since 2011, MPS has sourced fresh produce, meats, baked goods and other products from local farmers and manufacturers.  Purchasing local foods supports Minnesota farms and small businesses and provides opportunities for students to learn how their food is grown by extending farm to school efforts beyond the cafeteria and into the classroom with visits from farmers and taste-tests.

Farm to school also helps to support another USDA initiative designed to enhance school meals – the initiative.   Using local foods means that school nutrition programs are preparing more meals from scratch, allowing them to control the amount of sodium. Farm to school gets students engaged and excited about school meals – and with the community BBQ, both kids and their families get a sneak peek at what’s going to be on the lunch menu for the new school year.

By Kate Seybold, Farm to School Coordinator, Minneapolis Public Schools

What better way to ring in the new school year than by celebrating the bounties of local produce that farmers harvest during the back-to-school season?  Minneapolis Public Schools (MPS) is hosting its – a community event built around fresh food, families and fun! The event brings together MPS students and their families, school staff, local farmers and vendors, members and other community partners in celebration of Minnesota Farm to School Month and our farm to school program.

Sustainably Growing Vegetables in a Changing Climate: It's about Working Together

The (PASA) sponsored a field day on June 2 to talk about growing vegetables in a changing climate.  The discussion focused on climate change, its impacts on the farming system, and strategies to effectively adapt through increasing biodiversity on the farm.

PASA’s Director of Educational Programs, Franklin Egan, provided an overview of climate change trends and projections.  Dave King and others who farm 160 acres of vegetables and small fruit all sold within 25 miles of the farm, talked about their challenges and sustainable farming practices.  Among them, high tunnel beds have more aphids and pill bugs in the winter, downy mildew appears earlier in the summer, weeds are not any easier to manage especially without degrading soil health,  irrigation costs are rising, and deer pressure rises during droughts.  Practices being continuously adapted to respond to changing conditions include a highly diversified crop production system, use of beneficial insects, crop rotations, cover cropping, and rye straw mulch.

Celebrating Food and Culinary Connections: Schools Serve up California-grown Food on "California Thursdays"

! To celebrate this, we’re showcasing the important work of California Thursdays, a collaboration between the Center for Ecoliteracy and a network of public school districts to serve healthy, freshly prepared school meals made from California-grown food. The following guest blog also highlights the inspiring work of the Center for Ecoliteracy, a partner with USDA’s national sodium reduction in schools-initiative,

By Jennifer Gerard, R.D., Center for Ecoliteracy, California Food for California Kids Program Director

What’s your favorite day of the week? For many students in California — it’s Thursday.

On Thursdays, over 1.7 million students in schools that participate in the California Thursdays program know they’ll be offered a lunch freshly prepared from California ingredients. California Thursdays is a celebration of local food, the people who produce and prepare it, and the significant connections that exist between children, food, and their environment.

Helping Reduce Risk and Facilitate Trade of Fruits and Vegetables

Now that it’s June, many of us are enjoying a variety of fresh fruit and vegetables that will be available throughout the summer.  During the rest of the year, some of these same fresh fruits and vegetables are available to American consumers thanks to trade agreements with Canada and Mexico.

In the last five years, the value and volume of fresh fruits and vegetables from Canada and Mexico to the United States has grown.  In 2015, the U.S. imported more than 2.8 billion pounds of fresh fruits and vegetables from Canada, valued at $1.4 billion.  From Mexico, the U.S. imported 17.4 billion pounds of fresh fruits and vegetables for $9.1 billion.  U.S. fruit and vegetable growers also have benefited.  In 2015, the U.S. exported nearly 7.1 billion pounds of fresh fruits and vegetables to Canada and Mexico, worth $4.2 billion.

Reduce Food Waste? Challenge Accepted!

Since USDA launched the U.S. Food Waste Challenge in 2013, leaders and organizations across the food chain have committed to reducing, recovering, and recycling food loss and waste.  Last week, I joined our newest partners in this effort at the Jessup Terminal Market to launch their own friendly competition, the Terminal Market U.S. Food Waste Challenge.

The National Association of Produce Market Managers (NAPMM) organized the competition and is leading the charge to reduce food waste at produce terminal markets, which are endpoints within the wholesale supply chain where fruits and vegetables are bought and sold for retail use.  Because they act as hubs for large quantities of perishable foods, these markets provide a big opportunity to prevent food waste and can play a key role in reaching the first U. S. national food waste reduction goal:  a 50 percent reduction in food waste by year 2030.

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