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Wednesday, November 30, 2016

A Reflection: Celebrating Eight Years of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships

From the #USDA:


USDA Center for Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships Director Norah Deluhery eating lunch with kids at a Philadelphia Archdiocese’s Nutritional Development Services (NDS) summer food service site.
USDA Center for Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships Director Norah Deluhery eats lunch with kids at a Philadelphia Archdiocese’s Nutritional Development Services (NDS) summer food service site.
Looking back at USDA’s efforts to help rural America thrive, I am truly proud of the impact our diverse partners, both from faith and secular communities, have had within their communities. On behalf of the USDA Center for Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships, I would like to say thank you to our partners these past eight years as well as reflect on a few notable highlights of the work we have achieved together.
USDA touches the lives of all Americans every day, whether they realize it or not. While our programs to reduce food insecurity are well known, our nation’s most vulnerable citizens can still be hard to reach. Faith-based and community partners have been especially helpful in this area, particularly when it comes to feeding children in summer months, when school is out of session. In collaboration with many partners, including Catholic Charities USA, the Church of God in Christ, Islamic Relief USA, the National Baptist Convention and the Salvation Army, USDA increased the number of summer meals served to kids by 16% between 2009 and 2015, a total of more than 1.2 billion summer meals served when school is out and food is scarce.
In 2010, First Lady Michelle Obama launched Let’s Move! Faith and Communities (LMFC) to build the capacity of faith and community-based health leaders to educate their community members and promote healthier choices, increased physical activity, and access to healthy and affordable food. In 2011, Let’s Move! Faith and Communities partners hosted 1,100 new summer meal sites, where low-income kids were served healthy free meals once school let out. More than 4,500 faith and community leaders and organizations participated in the initiative which created a bridge to numerous other communities as these leaders represent a broad networks of local, regional and national organizations.
Faith-based and community partners have also helped USDA as we look to prepare a diverse next generation of agricultural leaders. The average American farmer is now approaching retirement age, and our food supply is becoming increasingly connected globally.
In our backyard, we’ve partnered with multiple schools to introduce exciting and rewarding opportunities in agriculture. At an agricultural science and business boot camp hosted at Frederick Douglass High School of Baltimore in 2016, students learned from a panel of agricultural scientists about related occupations and their career paths. In addition, through school partnerships, students are able to tour USDA headquarters, volunteer in the People’s Garden and interact with vendors in our Farmer’s Market as well as participate in cooking demonstrations and engage with USDA senior leadership on topics including food waste, entrepreneurship, college and internship opportunities.
Across the United States and Puerto Rico, USDA has hosted over 20 on-site application acceptance events, in partnership with the Office of Personnel Management. These events, held in conjunction with 1862, 1890, and 1994 land grant institutions, Hispanic Serving Institutions, and other minority serving institutions, provided an opportunity for USDA hiring managers to collect applications for Pathway Intern and Recent Graduate positions on location and significantly contributed to the department’s legacy of cultural transformation. In 2015 alone, over 360 positions were filled or offers made through this method.
To further develop the next generation of agricultural leaders internationally, USDA has joined other governmental offices, American NGOs and private companies to provide leadership development, professional training, cultural exchange and networking opportunities to Mandela Washington Fellows of President Obama’s Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI). The USDA Center coordinated the placements of three Fellows from Senegal, Nigeria, and Uganda, a first for the Department.
Our partners have also acknowledged the rich religious diversity of the United States by supporting USDA as it recognizes various holidays related to food and agriculture found in multiple faiths. During each year of the Obama Administration, the USDA Center for Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships has recognized the essential and important role of the religious community in the United States by hosting celebrations for employees and their families that are often led by members of the community including annual iftars, prayer breakfasts, Seders and festivals such as Diwali and Sukkot.
This reflection highlights just a handful of the work we’ve done with partners across the United States these past years. As Director of this Center, it has been an honor to work with such inspiring individuals and organizations under the leadership of Secretary Vilsack and President Obama. We don’t work alone, and again, I want to thank all of our partners for all of their hard work over the past eight years to provide a better future for the American public.

Small Town 4-H’er Reaches for the Stars

From the #USDA:


Peggy Whitson monitoring a soybean plant growth experiment
Peggy Whitson monitors a soybean plant growth experiment on one of her previous International Space Station (ISS) expeditions. Whitson, a former 4-H’er, is now the ISS commander. (NASA photo)
Many kids gaze up into the night’s sky and dream of touching the stars. Peggy Whitson, NASA astronaut and commander of the International Space Station, turned that dream into reality.
Whitson grew up in the small town of Beaconsfield, Iowa, completing standard chores like mowing the lawn and caring for animals, but never lost her determination to fly and eventually go to outer space. At the age of nine, Whitson became involved with the 4-H program. Her brothers and sisters were active with the local Ringgold County 4-H club and it was a natural fit for her. The program played a key role in helping her develop from a shy girl into an exceptional leader.
“Although I didn’t particularly have a love of chickens, I was able to raise enough to sell,” said Whitson.  “That ‘chicken money’ eventually paid for my private pilot’s license.”
4-H is the flagship youth outreach program of the federal land-grant universities’ Cooperative Extension Service, administered by USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA).  4-H provides youth hands-on learning experiences and encourages learning about the world through science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) opportunities. Traditionally, STEM education focused on agricultural science, electricity, mechanics, entrepreneurship and natural sciences. Today, 4-H programs include rocketry, robotics, bio-fuels, renewable energy, computer science and environmental sciences.
Whitson’s space station tour highlights the role in a partnership effort among 4-H, NIFA and NASA to promote STEM education.
“In order to find your limits, it is necessary to step beyond your ‘comfort zone,’ and try new and challenging things. It just might inspire you,” said Whitson. “The 4-H program is one way young people can practice expanding their experiences, knowledge and skills.”
Whitson has completed two six-month tours of duty aboard the International Space Station and returned on Nov. 19, 2016 with Expedition 50/51, where she assumed command of the station. Whitson and her crewmates are performing 250 zero-gravity experiments in areas of biology, Earth science, human research, physical sciences and technology development. She is scheduled to return to Earth in the Spring of 2017.
“We will be using ourselves as test subjects to understand how space flight effects the human body,” said Whitson. “We will also look at plant growth, genetic changes, examining how the lack of gravity effects physical phenomena,” she said.
And just like that… A small town girl is now doing big things. She has a message for today’s youth.
“Where you come from doesn’t have to be limiting; extend yourself and anything is possible,” said Whitson. “I dreamed of becoming an astronaut and achieved that dream.”
NIFA invests in and advances agricultural research, education and extension and seeks to make transformative discoveries that solve societal challenges.
A young Peggy Whitson delivering a 4-H presentation
A young Peggy Whitson delivers a 4-H presentation on how to dry flowers and make arrangements and decorations. (Photo courtesy of Peggy Whitson)

Research in Energy Security Helps Lead to Food Security in West Africa

From the #USDA:


Cochran Fellows receiving training from the USDA Forest Products Laboratory
Cochran Fellows receive training from the USDA Forest Products Laboratory during a hands-on workshop on low-cost, high-efficiency cooking stoves. The stoves provide gains in efficiency, as well as reduce pollution offering benefits such as a lower incidence of pulmonary diseases.
Research shows the majority of people in Africa depend on biomass to meet their energy needs, with approximately 80 percent relying on wood energy. Such high dependency makes families vulnerable to unexpected and sudden changes, including extreme weather and socio-political events. Researching and developing ways to diversify energy sources is crucial for a more sustainable, food secure future.
A project funded through the USDA Foreign Agricultural Service (FAS) Cochran Fellowship Programon “Biofuels for Sustainable Rural Livelihoods,” hosted by the University of Missouri (MU) College of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources International Programs, set out to address this very issue. The research and training program was organized for West African Cochran Fellows to learn how different uses of biofuels can help support sustainable livelihoods in their communities. The two-week-long program consisted of workshops, field visits and interactive discussions in cooperation with the USDA Forest Products Laboratory, the MU Center for AgroforestryColumbia Center for Urban Agriculture and Envest Microfinance.
“Biofuels can help diversify such energy sources, whether through biogas or high-efficiency wood stoves. They also help supplement other renewable sources such as solar panels,” explained MU Program Coordinator Dr. Francisco Aguilar. “The more diverse, the more resilient households are, the more resilient households are, the more we are strengthening energy security.”
Providing this multidisciplinary training through Cochran Program, was the first step for the MU faculty in their work with the fellows. Ultimately, researching and teaching about energy security will also lead to improving food security in the region.
“A key point is to stress the role of energy resiliency as an instrumental component to food security,” explained Dr. Aguilar. “To be food secure, we need the energy to adequately cook the food to be safe to eat. Hence, energy security is integral to food security.”
Since hosting the training, FAS, MU and the fellows have continued their collaboration on biofuel developments. The fellows have promoted local production and marketing of cook stoves in Senegal and the National Biogas Program of the Senegalese Ministry of Energy awarded a four-year contract to one of the fellows to construct 500 biodigesters in houses and schools across the Diourbel Region. These biodigesters, along with training in feedstock management and soil conservation, will help diversify affordable clean energy options for Senegalese farmers and help lead to increased food security.
The FAS Cochran Fellowship Program has trained more than 17,500 fellows from 125 countries since its inception more than 30 years ago. Hands-on training and research opportunities to enrich fellows’ technical knowledge and skills in areas related to agricultural trade, agribusiness development, management, policy and marketing, helps the fellows develop agricultural systems necessary to meet food and fiber needs in their countries.
University of Missouri faculty and the Cochran Fellows at the local Foster Brothers Wood Products, Inc. biomass processing facility
University of Missouri faculty and the Cochran Fellows stop by the local Foster Brothers Wood Products, Inc. biomass processing facility for a tour. Foster Brothers is the leading supplier of locally-sourced biofuel for colleges in the state of Missouri.

SNAP Employment and Training (E&T): USDA Study Finds Skills, Credentials Critical to Helping SNAP Participants Find Jobs

From the #USDA:


SNAP E&T helps participants develop skills to find better jobs.
SNAP E&T helps participants develop skills to find better jobs.
The vast majority of jobs in the future will require some level of education beyond high school.  Unfortunately, these jobs are out of reach for the majority of SNAP participants, who often lack the skills they need to compete in today’s job market.  To combat this challenge, USDA offers the SNAP Employment and Training (E&T) program. SNAP E&T, which is available in all states, is a skills and job training program designed to help SNAP participants prepare for and secure jobs that lead to economic self-sufficiency.  SNAP E&T programs provide SNAP participants the opportunities to gain skills, training and experience, which increase their ability to qualify and get hired for jobs with earnings high enough to transition off of SNAP.  A newly released SNAP E&T Best Practices report provides new insights into how states can strengthen SNAP E&T programs and make them more effective at helping SNAP participants gain the skills employers are seeking and support long-term self-sufficiency for SNAP participants. 
As USDA’s Under Secretary for Food, Nutrition and Consumer Services, I’m encouraged by the findings of this new study, which drew from 160 studies on effective practices in SNAP E&T, workforce development, career pathways and adult education. This study identified several notably effective strategies including: 
  • Serving individuals who volunteer to participate, rather than mandating participation as condition of eligibility 
  • Using initial skills and barriers assessments that can be used to create a personalized employment plan that addresses participants’ individual strengths and weaknesses  
  • Taking a comprehensive approach to supporting participants overcome their specific barriers to employment  
  • Developing partnerships across SNAP E&T programs, community colleges, state workforce development programs, basic skills programs and community-based organizations  
  • Focusing on  developing skills closely linked to labor market demands in the local area  
  • Encouraging programs that lead to industry-recognized credentials, including certificates and academic credentials 
 Finally, stand-alone basic skills instructions and job search assistance programs fall short of helping participants achieve lasting self-sufficiency.  Programs that combine several components are more likely to help participants achieve improvements in employment and earnings.  For example, combining basic skills training with vocational education is more effective.
USDA is committed to strengthening SNAP E&T nationally to ensure SNAP participants develop the skills and get the training they need to obtain and retain employment. FNS has funded a $3.6 million technical assistance effort – the SNAP to Skills Project – that is designed to provide states the technical assistance, tools and resources they need to build more effective and job-driven SNAP E&T programs. These resources combined with the best practices identified in the recent report will help SNAP E&T providers implement programs that will help SNAP participants achieve economic self-sufficiency.
For more information about the study, see the full report on our website: http://www.fns.usda.gov/snap/snap-employment-and-training-et-best-practices-study-final-report

100 Strong: Rural Impact County Challenge Achieves Goal

From the #USDA:


In April, the White House Rural Council partnered with the National Association of Counties to announce the Rural Impact County Challenge, a call for at least 100 counties to pledge to create opportunity for children in rural areas. On October 25, we achieved this goal. These 100 community leaders will prove instrumental in addressing the opportunity gap for rural kids, which is so often compounded by rural counties’ distance from health and early learning programs, lack of access to public transportation, and higher rates of drug and substance abuse.
Small towns and rural communities are home to millions of Americans, include some of our most beautiful landmarks and provide the vast majority of food, energy, and environmental benefits for the rest of the country. 
  The Obama Administration is committed to investing in rural communities. Over the past eight years, we’ve taken actions to address the root causes and reduce the devastating effects of rural child poverty, and important progress has been made. For example, child food insecurity reached an all-time low in 2015. For families, median household income in rural areas of the U.S. increased by 3.4 percent in 2015 and poverty rates have fallen. We’ve also seen rural populations stabilize and begin to grow.
Our ability to reach the 100-county goal with the Rural Impact County Challenge marks a huge achievement for the White House and rural communities alike. But we’re not done. While we have made important progress, it remains unacceptable that 1.5 million children in rural America – 23.7 percent of all rural youth – live in poverty.
It’s not too late to join the Rural Impact County Challenge. County representatives can sign up by visiting http://www.naco.org/rural-impact-county-challenge-national-effort-combat-rural-child-poverty.
For questions or more information, please contact the White House Rural Council at ruralaffairs@who.eop.gov.

Farm to School Efforts Positively Impact Tribal Communities

From the #USDA:


Students at Loneman Day School on Pine Ridge Reservation (S.D.) enjoy buffalo gravy over rice.
Students at Loneman Day School on Pine Ridge Reservation (S.D.) enjoy buffalo gravy over rice.
An ancient belief held by tribal communities is that the soil is cared for by Mother Earth, the nurturer and the protector of the land. This idea speaks to the importance of farm to school efforts in tribal communities.  And many tribal communities are reconnecting children with their rich history and cultures by establishing farm to school programs.
Tribes are integrating traditional foods into the Child Nutrition Programs, sourcing foods locally, incorporating multicultural nutrition education into classroom curriculum and providing hands-on lessons in school gardens. USDA’s Office of Community Food Systems supports tribal communities through the USDA Farm to School Grant Program, assisting tribes across the nation to connect with local producers and teaching children about where their food comes from.
Based in Rapid City, S.D., the Inter-Tribal Buffalo Council  (ITBC) received a farm to school grant to assist schools on Indian reservations in South Dakota in increasing access to local and regional foods, including bison. Incorporating traditional foods into tribal schools is complex due to limited access to local foods, student and staff acceptance and the unique ways in which tribal school systems are structured. Many reservations are located in rural and remote areas with existing food systems challenged by a lack of infrastructure. Jim Stone, Executive Director of ITBC, said, “The USDA Farm to School Program helps tribes navigate the sometimes murky and complicated pathway from nutrition education to plating healthy, traditional foods for the youth. Education is important, but procurement is crucial to improving the dire health situation of Indian Country.” 
Stone and Dianne Amiotte-Seidel, Project Director/Marketing Coordinator for ITBC, partnered with 13 school systems to incorporate buffalo meat into school lunch programs. ITBC experienced several challenges, including the lack of certified processing plants located near tribal reservations, the price difference between beef and buffalo and students’ acceptance of buffalo meat. ITBC overcame these obstacles by utilizing the USDA Farm to School Toolkit, which guides practitioners through questions to consider and helpful resources to reference when growing a farm to school program.
By connecting a variety of stakeholders, like school board members and tribal council members, and explaining how the tribes would benefit, ITBC was able to incorporate buffalo meat into the school systems. ITBC also discovered that buffalo meat had a bad reputation among students and staff. By providing nutrition and cultural education, conducting taste tests and incorporating school garden activities, ITBC persuaded the students and staff to try the meat, and it is now widely accepted among the school community.  Amiotte-Seidel said, “The grant has helped to decrease health risks through the incorporation of buffalo meat into children’s diets, which has a positive impact on helping to combat diabetes, heart disease and other health issues.”
For more information on serving traditional foods in schools, check out these resources:
 Inspired by the Inter-Tribal Buffalo Council and their innovative farm to school programs? USDA is currently accepting applications for the Farm to School Grant Program, which assists eligible entities in implementing farm to school programs that improve access to local foods in eligible schools. Consider applying for a grant to bring more local food into school meals, promote healthy eating habits and expand markets for American farmers and producers.

Now What? 5 Ways to Use Leftover Turkey

From the #USDA:



Don’t trash that turkey! Discover 5 new and exciting ways to use leftovers with these delicious recipes from MyPlate. (Click to view a larger version)
Don’t trash that turkey! Discover 5 new and exciting ways to use leftovers with these delicious recipes from MyPlate.
This week, many Americans will gather together with friends and family to celebrate Thanksgiving. When the fun is done, you may be left with more turkey than you anticipated. MyPlate is here to help with these unique ways to use up those leftovers!
MyPlate encourages you to choose lean sources of protein. Selections from the Protein Foods group, including meat, poultry, fish, eggs, nuts, seeds, beans and peas, provide nutrients that are vital for the health and maintenance of your body. Turkey is a versatile food and an excellent source of lean protein!
Check out these recipes featuring turkey five different ways to use up leftovers, or to simply try something new!
  • The Twist on a Classic: Shepard’s Turkey Pie
    Mashed potatoes top this delicious layered casserole that makes great comfort food.
  • The Fun Family Favorite: Turkey Tostadas
    Take a new spin on Taco Night with this entrée that is sure to please the whole family. Get kids involved by letting them spread the refried beans or sprinkle on the cheese!
  • The Weeknight Warm-up: Turkey Roast and Rice Soup
    Whip up this hearty soup for dinner! Carrots and celery add robust flavor.
  • The Savory Side: Turkey Potato Salad
    Looking for something different?  This easy dish can be served as a side, or on top of mixed greens for a tasty lunch.
  • The One-dish Meal: Eve’s Tasty Turkey Tetrazzini
    Food group fantastic! One serving of this tasty dish provides 1/2 cup of vegetables, 1 1/2 ounces of grains, 2 ounces of protein, and 1/4 cup of dairy!
For more healthy recipes, check out www.WhatsCooking.fns.usda.gov, and learn more about the Protein Foods Group at ChooseMyPlate.gov. Check back with us in December for our next featured ingredient, oranges, five different ways!

Meet the Experts: USDA’s National Agricultural Library Launches New Online Food Safety Video Collection

From the #USDA:


USDA Food Safety Inspection Service (FSIS) microbiologist Monifa Peterson demonstrates the addition of reagents for an E. coli non-O157:H7 analysis.
USDA Food Safety Inspection Service (FSIS) microbiologist Monifa Peterson demonstrates the addition of reagents for an E. coli non-O157:H7 analysis.
Food is necessary and can be quite enjoyable, but it must also be safe to eat. Unfortunately, about one out of six Americans gets sick from eating contaminated food at some point during the year, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Scientists from USDA’s Agricultural Research Service (ARS) work for one of the federal agencies that conducts research to help make the foods we eat safer. To help the public more easily access USDA food safety research information, the department’s National Agricultural Library’s Food Safety Research Information Office (FSRIO) has launched a new “Meet the Experts” online video collection available on the NAL website.
FSRIO has collected videos from a variety of sources and organized them in one repository. Current videos highlight ARS food safety research. FSRIO will add other videos to the collection that highlights research and food safety efforts from across USDA agencies.
Many foods must travel through different points between the farm and your plate.  Lettuce, for example, is harvested from the field, cooled, processed and packaged, then transported to your grocery store where it is displayed in a cooler waiting for someone to buy it, transport it home or to a restaurant where it finally gets prepared and eaten.  ARS scientists in the produce-safety videos discuss how their research is improving the safety of that lettuce all through its journey to the grocery display cooler. 
Stay tuned as additional videos are added to the “Meet the Experts” website.

Hacking Away at Common Agricultural Issues

From the #USDA:



The first place winners of the Apps for Ag Hackathon were the team Giving Gardens whose app help community gardeners post their surplus produce and "trade" with others. They also plan to have local chefs offer suggested recipes based on their postings - sort of like a Craigslist for community gardeners.
The first place winners of the Apps for Ag Hackathon were the team Giving Gardens whose app help community gardeners post their surplus produce and "trade" with others. They also plan to have local chefs offer suggested recipes based on their postings - sort of like a Craigslist for community gardeners.
Hackathons aim to solve real problems and USDA, along with the University of California Agriculture and Natural Resources (CANR) and the California State Fair, hosted a competitive one this past July. Software developers, designers, entrepreneurs, farmers, farm consultants, marketers and others in the agricultural industry participated in the Hackathon, which was held at the UC Agriculture and Natural Resources building in Davis, California. Participants competed for cash prizes at a “pitchfest” in front of a live audience at the California State Fair on Sunday, July 17, Prizes were awarded to the top three apps: first place won $5,000, second place $3,000 and third place $1,500. People who work in agriculture brought with them ideas for problems that technology may help solve.
“Apps for Ag” Hackathons have already resulted in multiple startups and we want to see this momentum continue to grow,” said Robert Tse, USDA California Rural Development chief strategy officer for agriculture technology and innovation. “There was no better place than the State Fair in the Capitol to showcase the ingenuity of California’s Ag tech community.”
One startup that has resulted from a previous Ag hackathon is Ag for Hire, which connects farm workers who need jobs with farmers who need workers. “Apps for Ag is where I met my cofounder, formed the concept and built our first prototype,” said Josh Brown, Ag for Hire founder and CEO. “I would not have been able to find someone so embedded in the agriculture industry on my own.”
At the Apps for Ag Hackathon, our goal was to look for new ideas for solving three big issues affecting agriculture:
  • Citrus Greening – an insect and disease complex that has already severely impacted the Florida citrus industry – some of the hackers developed tools to help us detect, track, forecast and prevent this disease
  • Drought and Irrigation – California continues to be in a historic drought. It is a complex crisis and agriculture objectively takes the brunt of it. There was a lot of room for innovation for this challenge. We saw ideas from precision irrigation to complex modeling
  • Healthy Soil – it’s not just the dirt, but rather it’s a whole delicate mix of different kinds of organic matter. Healthy soil and the impact of farming on the soil ecosystem is a worldwide issue. Whether you deal with nitrate seepage in California or nitrates from our chicken farms in Maryland that goes into the Chesapeake Bay where it endangers our oysters, having our hackers develop solutions for taking better care of our soil is a big and important issue.
A gardening and produce-sharing app took top prize in the Hackathon, The first place team, GivingGarden, took home $7,500 in prize money, custom rodeo belt buckles and a six-month, top-tier membership to the AgStart Incubator in Woodland. The hyper-local, produce-sharing app provides gardening advice from the UC Master Gardener Program and enables backyard gardeners to connect with others who want to share their produce. The GivingGarden team members are Scott Kirkland, Josh Livni, Deema Tamimi and John Knoll.
Solutions begin with innovation and partnerships. “Hackathons are a great way to spur innovation in industry verticals where technology has not been fully adopted,” said Rob Trice, one of the judges and the founder of the Mixing Bowl and Better Food Ventures.

Food Hub, Food Truck and Food Education: Northern Colorado School District Takes Farm to School to the Next Level

From the #USDA:


Lunch at a Weld County School District 6 elementary school featuring local products: grass-finished beef, pinto beans, local certified organic apples and greenhouse tomatoes & cucumbers
Lunch at a Weld County School District 6 elementary school featuring local products: grass-finished beef, pinto beans, local certified organic apples and greenhouse tomatoes & cucumbers
A bin of acorn squash sits on a pallet at the Weld County School District 6 central kitchen, right next to a bin of yellow onions and a 1,000 pound tote of russet potatoes – all locally-grown. A walk through the facility is enough to convince anyone that Weld County School District 6 is committed to scratch-cooked, locally-grown food for its 22,000 students at 35 schools.  In this rural Colorado school district, where over 40 languages are spoken at home and 66 percent of students are eligible for free or reduced price meals, fresh, tasty food is the norm – even down to the green chili, a southwestern favorite roasted in-house, using three varieties of local peppers.
About a quarter of the central kitchen is dedicated to processing fresh fruits and vegetables.  Mushrooms are sliced, carrots are shredded and onions are diced. With funding from a USDA Farm to School Grant in 2013, this food hub portion of the kitchen was furnished with tables, wash stations and equipment to process local food for Weld County’s own meals and for other districts in the area.
Locally-grown acorn squash and onions stored in the central kitchen for a harvest lunch in November
Locally-grown acorn squash and onions stored in the central kitchen for a harvest lunch in November
Natalie Leffler is the Food Hub Manager at Weld County School District 6. Her job is to coordinate partnerships with farmers, ranchers and local businesses to source as much local food as possible, defined as grown or produced within a 400 mile radius. Leffler manages an annual procurement to establish relationships and contracts. Growers must submit a food safety checklist with their bid documents, which she confirms with an in-person site visit, so the district can rest-assured that the local products are safe. 
Matt Poling, the school district’s Executive Chef, ensures that menu planning, recipe development and production processes maximize the use of local products. The freezer is full of shredded local zucchini (for blending into tomato sauce), mirepoix (the age-old combination of onion, celery, and carrots used as a base for soups) and other local ingredients to incorporate into meals in the off-season.  The team even prepares mashed potatoes made with local red potatoes and home-made gravy. Locally-grown and dried pinto beans are sorted and cooked into refried beans or chili. 
Just outside the facility are four giant compost bins designed to turn food scraps from the kitchen into compost for the district’s school gardens, funded through an innovative partnership with the West Greeley Conservation District.  Sometimes El Fuego, the district’s flashy food truck, is parked outside, too. But typically the truck is out roaming the district, serving up favorites like barbacoa street tacos and yakisoba noodle bowls to students and school staff.
Four compost bins, funded through a creative partnership with the West Greeley Conservation District, turn food scraps from the central kitchen into compost for school gardens
Four compost bins, funded through a creative partnership with the West Greeley Conservation District, turn food scraps from the central kitchen into compost for school gardens
The district goes beyond buying local food – school gardens, student wellness and food education are three major areas of focus. Plans are underway to transform a sandy, unused portion of a nearby schoolyard into an educational farm focused on student engagement and employment.  Called “Growing Grounds,” the project vision includes raised beds, an orchard, a teaching kitchen, hoop houses and a greenhouse.
Inspired by Weld County School District 6 and their innovative farm to school programs?  USDA is currently accepting applications for the Farm to School Grant Program, which assists eligible entities in implementing farm to school programs that improve access to local foods in eligible schools. Consider applying for a grant to bring more local food into school meals, promote healthy eating habits and expand markets for American farmers and producers.


Distance Learning and Telemedicine projects

From the #USDA:


Some of the best stories about successful rural health projects are often from those who offer medical services, or those who benefit from those services.  It was inspiring to hear from an Oklahoma woman who cared for her elderly mother, thankful because broadband and telemedicine services meant she no longer had to spend the better part of an hour sending medical data to a hospital over 100 miles away via dial-up service and then wait another hour for medication instructions.
USDA funding for broadband and Distance Learning and Telemedicine services helps connect rural communities to medical services and improve access to quality care from health care experts. For example, Norton Healthcare Foundation in Kentucky provides specialty care to patients in rural communities using telemedicine technology.  Providers consult with specialists to determine changes in care and whether care can be managed locally.  This reduces unnecessary transfers and allows patients to remain in their community where their support system is. 
Telemedicine is especially helpful for patients with limited mobility who require ambulances for transportation. Telemedicine services play a special role in treating opioid addiction and other substance misuse. The rapid increase of medical issues due to opioids has caused Norton to consider adding service areas and technology necessary to help treat opioid patients who otherwise might not receive critical care due to barriers of time and distance.
During 2016, USDA’s Rural Utilities Service invested over $194 million in telecommunications infrastructure and another $27.8 million for Distance Learning and Telemedicine Grants. These investments included 16 awards for $4.5 million to address mental health and substance issues, including opioid addiction.
It’s promising to know that the work we do and the funding we provide can improve the quality of life in rural America.

Racing for alternatives in the age of antibiotic resistance

From the #USDA:


Alice and the Red Queen in Peter Newell’s Through the Looking Glass. Biologist Leigh Van Valen is credited for hypothesizing the need for organisms to constantly adapt and evolve by referencing the Red Queen’s race. (Illustration by Peter Newell.)
Alice and the Red Queen in Peter Newell’s Through the Looking Glass. Biologist Leigh Van Valen is credited for hypothesizing the need for organisms to constantly adapt and evolve by referencing the Red Queen’s race. (Illustration by Peter Newell.)
This week is World Antibiotic Awareness week and ‘Get Smart About Antibiotics’ week. Learn more about how USDA works to ensure antibiotics remain effective to treat both people and animals when necessary and the alternatives available to traditional antibiotics.”
For billions of years, microbes such as bacteria and viruses have been in a struggle for survival in the face of naturally occurring antimicrobial substances. This struggle has continued in nature and into human society, where humans, plants, animals, and microbes themselves constantly ward off disease-causing microbes. The plight for adaptation and survival is not unlike the Red Queen’s race in Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking Glass, where it takes all of the running one can do to remain in the same place. 
Alexander Fleming’s accidental discovery of penicillin in the 1920s gave society a lethal weapon to protect itself against disease-causing microbes in this evolutionary race. However, with generation times often as short as 20 minutes, microbes are able to run much faster than plants and animals and take a huge lead in the Red Queen’s race. Over time, many disease-causing microbes have become resistant to penicillin and other commonly administered antibiotics, leaving society increasingly defenseless in this arms race against harmful microbes. As society continues to fight harmful microbes with the same set of traditional antimicrobial weapons, microbes continue to fight back by developing antimicrobial resistance (AMR).
To address the concerns presented by AMR, USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) supports extramural research, education, and extension activities and complements other USDA efforts to understand and mitigate AMR along the food chain. A NIFA grantee, Dr. H. Morgan Scott, at Kansas State University studies cattle and swine to identify antimicrobial alternatives that less readily drive resistance in microbes. Scott’s preliminary results suggest that many types of disease-causing bacteria have the potential to become or already are resistant to zinc- and copper-based antimicrobial substances. Bacteria exposed to oregano oil and menthol, however, currently do not appear to readily develop resistance to these antimicrobial alternatives.
“There are no surprises here,” said Scott. “Bacteria in the environment are exposed to heavy metals at differing concentrations and have adapted to survive in various environments. But bacteria haven’t been exposed to concentrated levels of essential oils much in the past, hence why they would less readily develop resistance to these substances.”
Whatever the alternative, it is important to take into account the advantage that microbes have over humans, plants, and animals in the Red Queen’s race. “They can adapt to us more quickly than we can adapt to them,” says Scott. “That is why it is essential to minimize AMR by optimizing our use of antibiotics, using only as much as necessary.”
NIFA invests in and advances agricultural research, education and extension and seeks to make transformative discoveries that solve societal challenges.