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Thursday, March 31, 2016

SNAP-Ed Helps Spur Healthy Choices

From the #USDA:

A family making food
SNAP-Ed provides shoppers with the information they need to make healthy food and lifestyle choices.
March is National Nutrition Month. Throughout the month, USDA will be highlighting results of our efforts to improve access to safe, healthy food for all Americans and supporting the health of our next generation.
Encouraging all Americans to make healthy nutrition and lifestyle choices is a top priority for the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). One of the most important ways we do that is through nutrition education provided by USDA’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.
SNAP-Ed delivers evidence-based, coordinated nutrition education and obesity prevention services and information to people participating in SNAP, as well as other eligible low-income families and communities.  Activities provided through SNAP-Ed encourage physical activity, work to improve nutrition, and prevent obesity.  These activities may include:
  • Establishing community gardens in low-income areas such as public housing sites, eligible schools, and qualifying community sites;
  • Working to bring farmers’ markets to low-income areas and providing nutrition education at those sites;
  • Working with local government in developing policies for eliminating food deserts in low-income areas;
  • Collaborating with community groups and other organizations to improve the food and nutrition environment in low-income areas;
  • Consulting with SNAP retailers on stocking healthier food options and educating shoppers on nutrition;
  • Participating in civic work groups that provide input on changing the physical environment to facilitate safe physical activity opportunities in low-income areas.
  • Working with schools to coordinate nutrition education with the National School Lunch andSchool Breakfast Programs.
  • Promoting nutrition education through the use of MyPlate materials and principles.
Today, USDA announced the release of the rule, SNAP: Nutrition Education and Obesity Prevention Grant Program, which finalizes and fully implements the SNAP nutrition education provisions going back several years to the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010. The rule also implements a provision of the Agricultural Act of 2014, authorizing promotion of physical activity as part of nutrition education and obesity prevention, in addition to existing efforts to promote healthy food choices.
SNAP-Ed delivers nutrition education and obesity prevention based on research from the Dietary Guidelines for Americans and beyond. This research tackles the topic from many different angles and this comprehensive approach to nutrition education and obesity prevention encourages collaborative efforts among stakeholders and partners.
SNAP-Ed programs must consult and coordinate their efforts with state and local operators of other USDA nutrition assistance programs including the Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC), the National School Lunch Program, Farm to School, and the Food Distribution program on Indian Reservations; and coordinate with other national, state and local nutrition education and health promotion initiatives and interventions. To be effective, we need to work together.
Given the critical problem of obesity – particularly among America’s children – it’s clear that SNAP-Ed has a vital role to play in encouraging healthy nutrition and lifestyle choices. The final rule published today will help us advance toward that goal.

USDA Provides Nutritious U.S. Peanuts in Humanitarian Effort for Haiti

From the #USDA:

Peanuts in a bowl
U.S. peanut farmers produce more than 4 million metric tons of peanuts each year that provide consumers a monounsaturated fats and protein rich food that also is a good source of vitamin E, niacin and folate, making it an ideal nutritional source for school age children worldwide.
“Working for peanuts” is a phrase typically used when someone is toiling for little reward. But when describing the activities of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), a far better phrase is “working with peanuts,” especially when referring to the agreement recently reached by USDA to provide this nutritional commodity to a neighboring nation in great need, the Republic of Haiti.
USDA crafted a deal that will result in 500 metric tons of packaged, dry-roasted peanuts grown in the United States to be shipped later this year to school children in Haiti who have little access to food.  This effort stems from the “Stocks for Food” program that first started in late 2007, a joint project between the Farm Service Agency (FSA), Foreign Agricultural Services (FAS) and Food and Nutrition Services (FNS) that transfers surplus farm commodities in government inventory to feeding programs and food banks both domestically and overseas.
The school feeding project in Haiti, where the United Nations will distribute the peanuts, is funded by the USDA Foreign Agricultural Service through the McGovern-Dole International Food for Education and Child Nutrition Program, which sends domestic agricultural commodities to school feeding programs at primary schools around the world that are struggling against poverty, malnutrition, and disease. The surplus peanuts will help feed nearly 140,000 malnourished kids for a full school year. Having food available for the kids increases their attendance at school and improves their ability to learn.
The Farm Service Agency joins the Foreign Agricultural Service in prideful use of the nation’s commodities to help nations in need. FSA’s Commodity Operations staff in Washington, D.C., and Kansas City, Missouri, worked diligently to procure the peanuts necessary to fulfill the international food-aid mission led by FAS and the domestic needs addressed by the Food and Nutrition Service. The multi-agency, USDA effort is especially rewarding when all of the puzzle pieces fit and a commodity is used wisely to meet nutrition requirements of people throughout the world.

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A Visitor’s Perspective: What Everyone Should Know about USDA and their Impact on Nutrition

From the #USDA:

Under Secretary Kevin Concannon taking a photo of his lunch mates at Arcola Elementary School in Silver Spring, Md.
Under Secretary Kevin Concannon takes a photo of his lunch mates at Arcola Elementary School in Silver Spring, Md.
March is National Nutrition Month. Throughout the month, USDA will be highlighting results of our efforts to improve access to safe, healthy food for all Americans and supporting the health of our next generation.
Until 6 months ago, I was a typical academic. I spent most of my time doing research on obesity. Apart from a few years in consulting between college and graduate school, my entire career has been in a university. Since so much of my research aims to inform policy, I decided it was time for me to see how decisions actually get made. This past summer, I had the good fortune of being selected to the White House Fellowship – a fantastic year-long program which provides an intimate view of federal policy making. Each fellow is placed in the executive branch, and my home for this year is the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). At USDA, I work as a Senior Policy Advisor to Under Secretary Kevin Concannon in Food, Nutrition and Consumer Services. This is a great fit for me since USDA – among other things – oversees the suite of federal nutrition assistance programs that help low-income families (including mine when I was a young child) put food on the table in times of need.
To be frank, I thought I would love the experience and hate government. From my outsider perspective, government seemed clunky, inefficient and bloated with too many people doing redundant work. I was completely wrong.
First off, there is an unmistakable passion and compassion for helping others which has blown me away. This sentiment is top-down and bottom-up, permeating all of USDA and fostering strong stewardship of the nutrition assistance programs. I remember sitting in on a meeting where several former recipients of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) shared their personal stories with Secretary Vilsack; none were unique but all were heart-wrenching. The most memorable was a woman who described being homeless, living in her car with her three children, and relying on SNAP so her family did not run out of food. At the end, Secretary Vilsack said “I hear you and this is what we are doing to help.” Another memorable moment was watching Secretary Vilsack testify in front of the Senate Appropriations committee. When asked to reflect on his time as Secretary, he talked about how honored he was to have been able to use the platform to improve the lives of rural Americans. I also recall watching Under Secretary Concannon return from numerous trips around the country saying – “let me tell you what I saw” – using it as an opportunity for his team to lift up what was working and improve what was not. Under Secretary Concannon always included anecdotes of people he met along the way (such as kindergarteners at school breakfast or adults at emergency supper sites stopping for dinner on their way home from work). This human element serves as a constant reminder of the importance of this work which touches tens of millions of Americans each day. I have also been struck by the commitment of the career staff to the mission of providing healthy and nutritious food to Americans in need. With each new president, new political appointees are brought in at the top levels of the federal government. This constant turnover in leadership requires the career staff to provide critical institutional memory to bridge administrations and maintain the programs during times of transition.
Second, people at USDA are talented and work extremely hard. They could easily make many multiples of their salaries elsewhere, but have chosen a career in public service. Government may seem large from the outside – and it definitely is – but my experience is that for any given issue area the teams are thin with most people having a “wheel house” or “lane” for which they are uniquely responsible. This requires people to be very good at their job and work tirelessly to get everything done. The added benefit is that it also creates a strong collaborative environment. This jumped out at me as soon as I arrived at USDA. As I set out to learn more about USDA’s role  in feeding children and families in need, I was surprised to learn that there was no single source which documented these efforts. So, I talked to lots of people. During just about every conversation, I was referred to someone else who could add to the story in a meaningful way. Coming from my career in academia, where I have had the privilege of training and working at top institutions, I am accustomed to working with smart, industrious people. But the joke in academia is that you are “herding cats” since professors commonly march to the beat of their own drum. Academia is also criticized for not being particularly fast-paced, although that is not always the case. In contrast, I have repeatedly watched people at USDA work together efficiently and effectively – with everyone marching to the same steady drum-beat to foster progress.
The third surprise is that government can be creative and even nimble. Prior to this experience, I assumed that government jobs (including high-ranking ones) were highly prescriptive and lacked opportunities for creativity. This was actually one of my biggest hesitations about joining the federal government since I love the freedom in academia to be imaginative. I have been proven wrong on countless occasions. For example, one key way that USDA has strengthened the nutrition safety net is by scaling local innovation such as the national implementation of a program started in Philadelphia which greatly reduced administrative burden for high-poverty schools while increasing access to school meals for low income children. Another example was the response to the recent water crisis in Flint, Michigan where I watched senior policy makers at USDA strategize with lawyers across the federal government to identify effective ways to lend a hand within the confines of the law. This agility has real impact in real time, much more than I could ever expect to have from academia.
It’s so easy to look at big government organizations like USDA and be skeptical, particularly with the real dysfunction which exists elsewhere in government. I often find myself thinking that if Americans could only witness the thoughtful, timely, and deliberate process at USDA, they might be less doubtful. In the absence of that experience, please take my word for it. When it comes to ending hunger and improving nutrition for Americans, USDA is truly a good steward of tax payer dollars and protector of the nation’s nutrition safety net. I have no doubt that Americans are better off because of USDA’s tireless efforts to help in times of need.
After this experience, I will likely return to an academic life focused on research. I look forward to using that platform as an opportunity to provide empirical evidence to future policy discussions about the important impacts of USDA’s nutrition assistance programs on the nation’s wellbeing. And I will be sure to suspend my disbelief (at least briefly) about the perceived inefficiencies in the federal government. I hope others might do the same.
About the blogger: Prior to the White House Fellowship, Dr. Sara Bleich was as Associate Professor at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. She has degrees from Columbia University (BA in Psychology) and Harvard University (PhD in Health Policy).

As Summer Draws Near, We Set Lofty Goals to Feed More Kids than Ever

From the #USDA:

Bradley, Alex and Chris Lanthier enjoying a Summer Food Program lunch
Bradley, Alex and Chris Lanthier enjoy a Summer Food Program lunch at Mountain View Apartments with USDA Rural Development in Vermont.
March is National Nutrition Month. Throughout the month, USDA will be highlighting results of our efforts to improve access to safe, healthy food for all Americans and supporting the health of our next generation.
You can tell by the smiles on the faces of Bradley, Alex, and Chris Lanthier that a well-fed kid is a happy kid! It’s smiling faces like these that make my job as Rural Housing Service Administrator so rewarding – these guys look as if they don’t have a care in the world. USDA Rural Housing Service is making a difference by helping kids, just be kids!
Yet it’s important to remember: unlike kids, hunger doesn’t take a vacation during the summer. Unfortunately, child hunger peaks during the summer months when kids from low-income families no longer have access to school meals.
I was so proud last year when Under Secretary Lisa Mensah announced last year Rural Housing Service had a record-breaking 174 multi-family housing communities feeding kids all summer ‘15 long. The announcement meant we increased RHS’ participation in this incredibly important program by nearly 25%! This year we want to do even more.
This year, I’m prioritizing USDA Rural Housing Service help even more affordable rental properties across rural America become participants in the Food and Nutrition Service’s Summer Food Service Program than ever before.
Help us help kids! This summer let’s help at least 200 RHS affordable rental communities to participate in the Summer Food Program. About 40% of our affordable rental communities across the nation have families with children. We are committed to help bring healthy food to kids all over rural America again this summer!
The owners and managers of USDA-financed affordable rental housing help us feed more hungry kids in rural America.  Together we make a difference! You can help RHS and FNS feed more kids too by visiting
Children at Calistoga Family Apartments, a farm labor housing complex, enjoying one of the many group games during the after-school program “Kids Club”
Programs through the Food and Nutrition Service and the Rural Housing Service can work together to provide rural children, like these kids from Calistoga Family Apartments (a farm labor housing complex) with nutritious food and activities during the summer and after school.

Spotting Trends Based on ‘What We Eat in America’

From the #USDA:

Two women looking at different serving sizes
Using a computerized dietary-intake survey program and serving-size aids, interviewers are able to help volunteers recall their dietary intakes. (USDA-ARS photo taken by Stephen Ausmus)
March is National Nutrition Month. Throughout the month, USDA will be highlighting results of our efforts to improve access to safe, healthy food for all Americans and supporting the health of our next generation.
The U.S. food supply is abundant, but many consumers are experiencing nutritional shortfalls. Some are overfed but undernourished at the same time. Observing trends in U.S. diets is possible based on food-consumption data collected during the annual “What We Eat in America/NHANES” dietary-intake survey.
The USDA Agricultural Research Service (ARS) is responsible for the consumption interview, one of several components of the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) conducted by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The dietary survey is managed by researchers at the Food Surveys Research Group in Beltsville, Md., part of the ARS Beltsville Human Nutrition Research Center.
Each year, the “What We Eat in America” computer-based dietary interview is used to ask more than 5,000 individuals nationwide about the foods and beverages they consumed. The participants’ dietary supplement intakes also are collected.
Research nutritionists then translate “what’s eaten” into “nutrients consumed.” The survey data—after analysis—provide insights into the population’s nutrient-intake status, such as overconsumption, nutritional shortfalls, healthy snacking and poor eating.
Here are some of the dietetic trends based on “What We Eat in America” survey data collected in 2011-2012.
—On average, U.S. individuals are getting only about half their daily recommended intake for dietary fiber and potassium. And well over one-third aren’t getting their recommended calcium, magnesium, vitamin C and vitamin A from foods and beverages.
—More than 90 percent are not getting their recommended vitamin D from foods and beverages. Based on supplement use tracked, about one-fourth took a supplement containing vitamin D, and more than half of women aged 60 and older took one.
—Lunch is the meal most frequently skipped. On any survey day, one in five individuals did not eat lunch.
—On a given day, more than half of individuals ate at least one food or beverage that was obtained from a restaurant. The proportion is higher for young adults. Two-thirds of those aged 20 to 39 ate food or beverage obtained from a restaurant. When consumed, restaurant foods and beverages contributed more than 40 percent of daily calories.
—Overconsumption also is a problem. Based on the survey data, individuals consumed 3,500 milligrams of sodium on a given day, which is about one-third more than the recommended maximum for adults with no known risk factors.
Essential vitamins and minerals help the body stay healthy and function properly. “What We Eat in America” data results are informative to consumers and professionals. To keep up with what’s trending based on “What We Eat in America,” visit the USDA-ARS Food Survey Research Group Web site.
A man and woman looking at the Sodium Intakes of Americans chart
The dietary survey data show that U.S. adults consume on average about one-third more than the maximum daily sodium intake recommended, or more than 1.5 teaspoons of salt daily. (USDA-ARS photo taken by Peggy Greb)

Raising Awareness of CACFP Across the Nation

From the #USDA:

Young children smiling
Help us raise awareness to combat hunger and bring healthy foods to the table.
March is National Nutrition Month. Throughout the month, USDA is highlighting results of our efforts to improve access to safe, healthy food for all Americans and supporting the health of our next generation. We could not have done this work without the support of our partners. Below is a story from one of our partners, the National CACFP Sponsors Association.  Family child care homes, as well as some child care centers and afterschool programs, participate in Child and Adult Care Food Programs under sponsoring organizations. The ongoing support and training that sponsors routinely provide helps CACFP providers serve nutritious meals and keep children healthy.
By Vicki Lipscomb, President, National CACFP Sponsors Association
Did you know CACFP provides 1.9 billion meals and snacks for over 3.3 million children?
Hunger is unacceptable to everyone. To combat the food insecurity that one in four Americans face, there are a number of government programs designed to provide access to healthy food. Many people know about USDA’s school lunch program and you may have even heard of the WIC program, but did you know that the Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP) provides 1.9 billion meals and snacks to over 3.3 million children in child care centers, family care homes and after-school programs?  In addition, CACFP provides that same access to over 115,000 elderly persons in adult day care.
The primary goals of the CACFP are to serve nutritious meals to children and help establish positive eating habits at the earliest stages of development.  Research indicates that the CACFP is an indicator of quality child care. Children that are cared for by providers participating in the CACFP benefit by being fed nutritious, USDA regulated meals that ensure their proper development. These children gain from early nutrition education that helps them establish positive eating habits that will enrich the quality of their diet throughout their life.
Child care providers receive nutrition education and support services from their CACFP sponsors who help them serve nutritious meals and create a positive eating environment for children. The quality of child care provided in our community is improved due to educational and financial resources available to caregivers through the CACFP.
There are thousands of people who are making sure preschool children in America are getting access to healthy foods on a regular basis and many of our neighbors haven’t ever heard of it! That’s one of the missions of the National CACFP Sponsors Association (NCA) to raise awareness across the nation and encourage communities to come together to learn and acknowledge the many ways we all benefit from the hard work and dedication of CACFP professionals and the program itself. The NCA knows that when we all join forces and work together the message we provide is stronger and will receive more attention.  Free resources are available at

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Two amateur astronomers have captured Jupiter taking another beating from what appears to be a comet or asteroid.

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Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Addressing the Heroin and Prescription Opioid Epidemic

From the #USDA:

Walk into any town in rural America, and ask someone if they know someone who is struggling or has struggled with addiction.  Chances are the answer will be yes.
In 2014, 28,648 Americans died of overdoses of opioids, a class of drugs that includes both prescription pain medications and heroin.  Heroin-related overdose deaths nearly doubled between 2011 and 2013.  In 2013, prescription opioid abuse or dependency affected 1.9 million Americans, and 517,000 Americans had abused heroin within the past year.
This is an epidemic, and it requires serious action from all levels of federal, state, and local government, the health community, law enforcement, and other stakeholders, in order to start turning those numbers around.
In January, President Obama asked me to lead an interagency effort focused on heroin and prescription opioids in rural America, a role I was humbled to accept.  This issue is very personal to me.  Growing up with a mother who struggled with alcohol and prescription drug addiction for much of my childhood, it wasn’t until I saw her recover with treatment that I saw addiction for what it is: a disease, not a character flaw.  This disease isn’t a personal choice, and it can’t be cured by willpower alone.  It requires responses from whole communities, access to medical treatment, and an incredible amount of support.
To me, our mandate is clear:  don’t judge, just help.  I feel especially fortunate to be able to leverage USDA’s special relationship with rural America, where rates of overdose and opioid use are particularly high, to better meet these communities’ unique needs.  Confronting the opioid crisis is part of the larger goal of creating economic opportunity and hope in rural areas, which are the heart and soul of this country.
On Monday, I spoke at the National Rx Drug Abuse & Heroin Summit in Atlanta, where more than a thousand leaders from across the country are currently gathered to discuss what we are doing, and what more we can do, to address this serious epidemic.  The Obama Administration has been promoting strategies including evidence-based prevention programs, prescription drug monitoring, and access to medication-assisted treatment and the overdose reversal drug naloxone.  Under the Affordable Care Act, mental health and substance use disorder services are essential health benefits that are required to be covered by health plans, and insurers are required to treat them the same as they treat medical and surgical benefits.  The President’s fiscal year 2017 budget proposes $1.1 billion in new funding to ensure treatment for opioid use disorder is available to everyone who seeks it.
Last week, Secretary of Health and Human Services Sylvia Burwell, Director of National Drug Control Policy Michael Botticelli, and I sent a joint letter to all governors to encourage them to use best practices that some states are already implementing, including requiring all prescribers to receive training on proper prescribing of opioids, and requiring prescribers and pharmacists to utilize prescription drug monitoring programs, a proven tool for reducing prescription drug abuse and diversion.  We are making great progress, but we need even more states to take action.
President Obama addressed the Summit yesterday and announced additional actions the Administration is taking right now to expand access to treatment, prevent overdose deaths, and increase community prevention strategies, as well as new commitments from the private sector.  In addition, I announced that I will hold a series of rural town halls in communities across the country in the coming months, in order to build support at the local, state, and regional levels for addressing addiction.  I also announced the availability of $1.4 million through USDA’s Rural Health and Safety Education (RHSE) grant program, which we are expanding this year to support outreach to prevent opioid abuse in rural communities.
These grants are an example of how USDA is utilizing existing programs to help.  As another example, our Rural Development Community Facilities programs can finance the construction of mental health and substance use disorder clinics in rural areas, which often lack access to treatment, and in 2013, I made a commitment to provide up to $50 million in Community Facilities funds for these types of facilities by the end of 2016.  As of November 2015, USDA had already more than quadrupled that commitment, providing more than $213 million to 80 projects in 34 States to develop or improve mental health and substance use disorder treatment facilities in rural areas.
We must continue to do more, and I urge Congress to approve the President’s budget request right away.  By making real investments, expanding strategies that we know work, and mobilizing partnerships at every level across the country, we can turn the tide of this epidemic and save lives.


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USDA Helps Military Veterans Answer the Question, “What’s Next?”

From the #USDA:

USDA Deputy Under Secretary Lanon Baccam talking futures in Ag for veterans to a packed house at a Ft. Bliss transitions summit
USDA Deputy Under Secretary Lanon Baccam talks futures in Ag for veterans to a packed house at a Ft. Bliss transitions summit in El Paso, Texas.
Each year, nearly 200,000 servicemen and women separate from active duty in the United States military.  According to the Department of Defense, this results in approximately 1,300 new veterans and their families returning to civilian life every single day, numbers that are expected to increase in the coming years. While many returning troops have plans and objectives upon their return home, many others have challenges finding new jobs, identifying health care resources, or integrating their skills into new careers.
For veterans exploring the next step in their careers and lives, USDA stands ready to help.  With rural Americans comprising only 16 percent of our total population, but about 40 percent of our military, USDA believes that the enormous scope of unique skills, experiences and perspectives held by those who served in the U.S. military can have enormous benefit for farming and ranching.
That’s why USDA Deputy Under Secretary for Farm and Foreign Agricultural Services Lanon Baccam, who also serves as the department’s Military Veterans Agricultural Liaison, recently visited Ft. Bliss in El Paso, Texas, as part of the Hiring Our Heroes Transition Summit.  Hiring Our Heroes is a nationwide initiative sponsored by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation that helps veterans, transitioning service members and military spouses find meaningful employment opportunities in the civilian sector.   In February 2015, USDA entered into an agreement with Hiring Our Heroes so that transitioning service members now have access to USDA programs and resources.  The Ft. Bliss event marked the first of several transition summits in which USDA will participate.
Not knowing what to expect in terms of soldiers’ interest in USDA employment or farm and ranching opportunities, USDA agency representatives who accompanied Baccam said they were pleased with the turn out. More than 120 service men and women attended USDA’s session, learning how they, too, could establish a livelihood and lifestyle in rural America and in the agriculture industry.
An Army veteran, Baccam said that transitioning from the military to the agriculture industry is a natural fit for many.  Hard work, loyalty, dedication, perseverance, patriotism and sense of duty are values common to both military service, farming, ranching and rural America.
Josh Eilers, Army Ranger
As a Sergeant, Eilers served as team leader in the U.S. Army’s elite First Ranger Battalion.
Case in point: Joshua Eilers of Ranger Cattle in Austin, Texas.  As a Sergeant, Eilers served as team leader in the U.S. Army’s elite First Ranger Battalion. Although raised in a rural community outside Austin, Eilers had no background in production agriculture. Fast forward post-military and you’ll now find Eilers managing his herd of full blood Wagyu beef that he markets directly to retail establishments and restaurants in Austin.
Many have questioned Eilers’ decision to enter the cattle business.  Eilers’ response? “Production agriculture affords me the opportunity to give back to my community in my post-military life.”
Eilers fully supports USDA’s efforts to transition veterans into careers with the department or into production agriculture enterprises.
“Veterans should take advantage of all that USDA has to offer.  USDA services and programs are meant to help you; so let them help you,” said Eilers.
USDA is scheduled to participate in several more Hiring Our Heroes events at military installations throughout the U.S. For more information on USDA services and programs for veterans and military personnel, please visit or contact your local USDA offices by visiting
Josh Eilers managing a Wagyu beef herd
Post-military, Josh Eilers manages a Wagyu beef herd outside of Austin, Texas.

Investments in EFNEP Pay Big Dividends, Now and in the Future

From the #USDA:

Woman shopping at supermarket
EFNEP teaches program participants about nutrition, food safety, how to stretch their food shopping dollars. (iStock image)
What would you think of a deal with a potential return-on-investment of up to 10-to-1?  But wait, there’s more… now, add the potential to save some serious money on future medical bills.  Too good to be true, right?  Not so.
EFNEP, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Expanded Food, Nutrition, and Education Program, has consistently proven its ability to improve the health and well-being of low income families and youth.  The program teaches participants how to improve their diets, be more physically active, stretch their food dollars, and increase their knowledge of food safety.
USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) manages EFNEP and in 2015 provided nearly $68 million in funding to 75 land-grant universities (LGUs).  The LGUs, in turn, sent EFNEP peer educators into communities to provide hands-on evidence-based learning opportunities to more than 119,000 adults and nearly 378,000 children, and indirectly reached more than 340,000 family members. EFNEP is available in more than 800 counties in all 50 states, six U.S. territories, and the District of Columbia.
“Research shows that better health is associated with reduced health care costs, less absenteeism from work, and less dependence on emergency food assistance,” said Stephanie Blake, program coordinator in NIFA’s Institute of Food Safety and Nutrition.
According to an analysis by the Agricultural and Applied Economics Association, $1 spent on the adult EFNEP program produced a benefit equivalent to $10.96.  Other results differed, ranging from Oregon’s $3.62 benefit per $1, to Iowa’s $12.50 benefit per $1, but all point to significant programmatic value.  A New York analysis in 2008 showed a program cost of $892 per graduate and a cost effectiveness ratio of $20,863 per quality adjusted life year (QALY).  QALY is a measure that takes into account both the quantity and quality of life generated by healthcare interventions. So, EFNEP isn’t just making a difference in the lives of individuals and families reached, it also has public value.
EFNEP national coordinators met in Arlington, Va., March 14-17 for their annual conference to find ways that could strengthen and improve the program’s benefits for the low-income population that EFNEP serves.
“A key session this year was the 2015-2020 U.S. Dietary Guidelines,” said Dr. Helen Chipman, national program leader for food and nutrition education in NIFA’s Division of Nutrition.  “This session was of particular importance given EFNEP’s role in improving the diets of EFNEP participants.”
Other conference sessions included emphasizing the physical activity part of nutrition EFNEP education programming and a nutrition response to the drinking water crisis in Flint, Mich.
“EFNEP benefits the greater society,” Blake said.  “EFNEP is a great example of USDA working with land-grant university partners to unite research and extension and improve the health and well-being of this nation.”
NIFA invests in and advances agricultural research, education and extension and seeks to make transformative discoveries that solve societal challenges.

FoodShare Columbia: Another Great Way to Increase Access to Healthy, Affordable Foods with SNAP

From the #USDA:

FoodShare boxes
FoodShare boxes sorted and ready for buyers looking to improve their healthy eating choices.
March is National Nutrition Month. Throughout the month, USDA will be highlighting results of our efforts to improve access to safe, healthy food for all Americans and supporting the health of our next generation.
FoodShare Columbia is a program designed to help alleviate the stress families face when they live in “food deserts.” The program, in cooperation with the University of South Carolina and other partners, assembles produce food boxes to distribute to low-income individuals. It just got started in April 2015 and has already distributed more than 3,000 food boxes in a community with a high rate of diabetes-related health conditions. More than half of these food boxes have been purchased by SNAP recipients using their SNAP EBT cards. The program is proving highly successful and is revolutionizing the way the community addresses food insecurity.
By Carrie Draper, MSW, Director of Policy and Partnership Development, University of South Carolina Center for Research in Nutrition and Health Disparities & Beverly Wilson, MPH, Director of FoodShare Columbia, University of South Carolina School of Medicine
One week, a woman brought $20 worth of coins; another week, a man traveled on two bus lines with an empty suitcase. They came to get a box of quality fruits and vegetables from a city parks and recreation community center in Columbia, S.C.
FoodShare Columbia launched in April of 2015 in the zip code of the city with the highest rate of diabetes-related amputees in the country—a statistic partially related to the disparities this area faces in access to healthy foods. Every two weeks, anyone from the community can purchase a Fresh Food Box of produce for either $20 in cash or $10 in SNAP benefits (the program operated by the USDAFood and Nutrition Service formerly known as food stamps). Boxes are $10 for SNAP shoppers because FoodShare Columbia is a SNAP Healthy Bucks site—South Carolina’s state administered SNAP healthy incentives program.
Over the past 11 months, more than 3,000 Fresh Food Boxes have been purchased by community members; over 50 percent of these were purchased with SNAP, with some weeks this percentage exceeding 70 percent. The fruits and vegetables come from a family-owned produce distribution company that is striving to increase their purchasing from South Carolina farmers. The produce is dropped off in bulk from the company on Fresh Food Box pick up days and then sorted into individual household size boxes by volunteers and staff.
Although there are great efforts underway to increase SNAP redemptions at farmers markets around the state, this model has proven particularly successful in this community. Through studies conducted out of the Center for Research in Nutrition and Health Disparities at the University of South Carolina, we identified barriers for SNAP shoppers at farmers markets including location, hours of operation, and lack of variety. We took these into consideration when developing the FoodShare Columbia model. We chose a well-known location within walking distance to a lot of people who receive SNAP that also has a convenient bus stop; recruited numerous satellite locations (e.g., a free medical clinic) around the city and beyond where people can place and pick up their order; developed a system where people can place their orders Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. and pick up their boxes from noon to 6 p.m. on pick up days from the main location; and always included at least 10 to 12 varieties of produce in each box. Recipe cards, based on the contents for the week and with upcoming pick up days, are also included.
These strategies are working. Customers often speak of liking and purchasing Fresh Food Boxes because of the freshness, quality, variety, and cost savings:
“It’s like opening up a box at Christmas. I really, really like it…. There’s a variety. And I don’t have to jump to 25 stores to get the sale items and it looks like really good produce. It isn’t like you get it home and the potatoes are rotten or something like that. It’s fresh, decent fruit and vegetables.” – Customer who purchases their boxes with SNAP
Next up for FoodShare Columbia is trying out a produce prescription and referral program, where staff at a public library branch and a medical clinic will screen customers/clients for food insecurity and provide them with a coupon for a free Fresh Food Box. They also hope to work with a group of mothers to create a more culturally-relevant box for Hispanic/Latino community members.
Our program partners include the City of Columbia Parks and Recreation Department, Columbia Housing Authority, Richland Library, and EdVenture Children’s Museum.  You can learn more about FoodShare Columbia here:

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Stretching the Clock and Enhancing the Food Aisles Make for Better Eating in Tribal Nations

From the #USDA:

Taco sauce, reduced fat/reduced salt cheese, carrot sticks, and cucumber slices
USDA's Food and Nutrition Service administers several programs that provide healthy food to children including the National School Lunch Program, the School Breakfast Program, the Child and Adult Care Food Program, the Summer Food Service Program, the Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program, and the Special Milk Program. USDA Photo by Lance Cheung.
March is National Nutrition Month. Throughout the month, USDA will be highlighting results of our efforts to improve access to safe, healthy food for all Americans and supporting the health of our next generation.
Food insecurity, and the social factors associated with it, can have a profound impact on any U.S. demographic. But two Indian reservations have recently found ways to tackle this very issue and illustrate how a little bit of brainstorming and community-building can go a long way to feed kids and grown-ups.
Ask any parent, and they’ll tell you a good chunk of their income goes toward putting food on the table. While that is taken as a given, what isn’t always obvious are the challenges parents encounter and the behind-the-scenes struggles moms and dads face to make sure there’s enough money to take care of this basic need. School meals are an important part of a child’s daily nutrition. But when the school day is done – and often when children are most hungry – that’s when parents may feel the pinch the most.
Fortunately, the price of nourishing children in the latter hours of the day just got more affordable for residents of the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation of the Oglala Sioux Tribe in South Dakota.
In one of the first-of-its-kind initiatives at an Indian reservation, children at Pine Ridge will have access to supper at Pine Ridge School thanks to the USDA’s Child and Adult Care Food Program. CACFP will provide federally-funded meals on the reservation through the At-Risk Afterschool Mealscomponent of the program.  The project is a partnership between Oglala Lakota CollegePine Ridge School, the South Dakota Department of Education, and USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service. Oglala Lakota College serves as the actual sponsor for the program.
“I am honored that we, as the college, were involved in this endeavor and that we were able to sponsor such an important collaboration with USDA, State of South Dakota, and Pine Ridge School,” said Janice Richards, Director of Oglala Lakota Head Start and Early Head Start Program.
Currently, about 100 to 150 students receive meals nightly at the Pine Ridge School dormitory. Back in January, CACFP began providing reimbursement for these meals, making it possible to expand the outreach to area children. The program is expected to grow gradually and potentially serve up to 300 to 350 children.
But Pine Ridge isn’t the only place where great things are happening in tribal nations around the country.  Residents of the Spirit Lake Sioux Tribe in North Dakota are also eating healthier, and now have fresher and more varied food choices as part of a change to their Food Distribution Program on Indian Reservation (FDPIR).
In the last four years at Spirit Lake, FDPIR had seen a 93 percent increase in participation due to the influx of oil workers to the area. To keep up with the demand and sensing it was time for the program to evolve for a more appealing experience, regional FDPIR staffers made sweeping changes. They secured funding to accommodate the big changes coming, and then moved to a new warehouse they knew could accommodate their plans. Now, consumers can pick up their food at a warehouse that’s been redesigned to mimic a more traditional grocery store shopping experience. Several tribes in other U.S. regions have this model, but this is a first for the Mountain Plains Region.
“It was a challenge to move, and there has been a learning curve for everyone,” said Mary Greene-Trottier, director of the FDPIR program, “but there have been so many positive effects from this and the clients are very happy.”
Trottier said the new system also allows residents to come back for food more than once a month, improving their access to fresher produce and that they can see, touch and feel food before they select it.
The current warehouse is also home to the Bennett County Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) office.  While participants in FDPIR cannot simultaneously receive SNAP benefits, Trotter sees opportunities to partner in offering nutrition education to beneficiaries of both FNS programs.
These programs are excellent examples of how communities can still come together, share their local culture, and collaborate on ideas that will ultimately bring about healthier future generations.