New study shows kids eating more healthy food at school – from the USDA

072611 Salad

new study from the Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity at the University of Connecticut shows that children are eating healthier food at school and discarding less food since updated healthy school meal standards took effect in 2012.

USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack released the following statement on the report’s findings:

“Updated healthy school meal standards were developed based on doctors’ recommendations to help ensure our children would be able to get healthy food at school. This new study adds to a growing body of scientific research that shows these standards are working. It is clear that kids are now eating healthier food and throwing less food away. This is good news for parents and teachers, who overwhelmingly support healthier meals because they know kids learn better when they have proper nutrition. For Congress to meddle with doctors’ recommendations and go back to less healthy meals now would not be in the best interest of our children.”

Key findings from the Rudd Center study include:

  • More students are now choosing to add fruit to their lunch tray than they were before the updated standards went into effect (54 percent in 2012 to 66 percent in 2014).
  • The percentage of the vegetables on their plates students consumed increased by nearly 20 percent, decreasing the amount of vegetables thrown away.
  • Students consumed more of their lunch entrées (71 percent in 2012 to 84 percent in 2014), which also decreases food waste.

Read the full report from the Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity, University of Connecticut: New School Meal Regulations Increase Fruit Consumption and Do Not Increase Total Plate Waste.

Link to news release


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From Navy man to farmer – from the Fresno Bee

Fresno farmer Rodney Wells.

Fresno farmer Rodney Wells.

By Bob Rodriguez

Every farmer has a story about how they got into agriculture. Some are born into it, while others, like city kid Rodney Wells, jumped into it as a second career.

Wells, the owner of Rancho de Rodney, a certified organic farm in southwest Fresno, grew up in Compton where his only connection to farming was a vegetable garden his father tended. But Wells wouldn’t make the city his home for long. At age 17 he joined the Navy as a way to escape a dismal future.

“I got out of there before I needed to choose which gang I need to be in,” Wells says. “In those days you either chose what gang to join or you ended up on a curb somewhere and none of those options appealed to me.”

Wells excelled in the Navy. At the peak of his 30-year career he supervised about 200 men as command master chief of the USS Pogy submarine.

After retirement, Wells and his wife Sherril, a lawyer, settled in Southern California. They moved to Fresno eight years ago when Sherril Wells became a judicial attorney with the Superior Court. After three decades in the Navy, it wasn’t easy for Rodney Wells to find a job that was challenging. He tried working at a hardware store and the Internal Revenue Service. He took several agriculture-related classes at Reedley College, where developed an affinity for farming.

“I began to see that food and farming were going to be critical in our futures,” Rodney Wells says. “And farming is no easy task. I learn something new all the time.”

Rodney Wells started off with an herb garden that Sherril helped develop about four years ago. Wells admits his first few times selling at a downtown farmers market were not successful.

“We have a card table and no tent or shade and it was the middle of the summer,” he says. “It was pretty awful.”

The couple learned from other farmers about marketing and choosing what sells.

Now, Rancho de Rodney is producing more than 120 types of herbs and vegetables on about 4 acres. The farm produces several varieties of lettuce, carrots, turnips, kale, heirloom tomatoes, bell peppers, hot peppers, fennel, thyme, mint and basil.

“We grow what you can’t find at Save Mart,” Wells says with a smile.

Rancho de Rodney sells at the Kaiser Permanente farmers market, 7300 N. Fresno St., on Wednesdays from 9 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.

Avid cook Sherril Wells encourages the farm’s customers to experiment with the herbs and offers several recipes at the Kaiser market.

“When you start using fresh herbs, it gives you so much flavor to whatever you are cooking,” she says. “And I think our customers appreciate a few suggestions.”

Although the couple are relatively new to the Kaiser market, they already are gaining customers.

Sam Mediati, of North Fork, was buying fennel from Wells recently. He and others are excited about the variety and quality of the farm’s produce.

“This is about the best that you can buy,” Mediati says.

Link to story


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Ag Day is Coming! Mark Your Calendars!

Ag Day 2015 graphicCalifornia Ag Day is scheduled for Wednesday, March 18 on the west steps of the State Capitol. Join CDFA and our partners, California Women for Agriculture and the California Foundation for Agriculture in the Classroom, for this outdoor, springtime event complete with tractors, livestock, flowers, delicious samples, educational materials, cowboy hats, charros, and more.

This year’s theme is “California Agriculture: Breaking New Ground.” Soils are the foundation of California’s agricultural abundance, so this year’s Ag Day event will feature information about our farmers’ and ranchers’ efforts to preserve, restore and protect the health of this most basic and most important resource. This theme also reflects the United Nations’ declaration of 2015 as the International Year of Soils “to increase awareness and understanding of the importance of soil for food security and essential ecosystem functions.”

Ag Day goes on rain or shine, and California’s soil is thirsty – so if it rains, the farmers and ranchers will smile and call it a beautiful day.

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Almond growers plant wildflowers to help bees – from the Modesto Bee

Story by John Holland

The rented bees arrived to find quite a feast in Mike Silveira’s almond orchard north of Oakdale.

He had sown mustard seeds between the tree rows in the fall, and by mid-January, they had burst out in flowers full of pollen and nectar for the bees to eat. This helped them gain strength for the almond pollination, now well under way up and down the Central Valley.

Silveira is among about 150 almond growers taking part in this research effort for the bees, which have struggled with disease and other challenges over the past decade.

“If you have this for a month before the almond bloom, then you build up a lot of bees,” said pollination researcher Christi Heintz, executive director of the sponsoring group, Project Apis m. It is named for Apis mellifera, the scientific name for the European honeybee, the species at issue.

Almonds are among the top-grossing farm products in the Northern San Joaquin Valley and statewide, and the largest users of commercial colonies in the nation each year. About 1.7 million bee boxes are delivered to the orchards for the pollination, which runs from mid-February to mid-March.

Beekeepers expect to lose some of their colonies each winter, but many have had much larger losses in recent years. Researchers say the causes could include diseases, parasites, trucking stress, pesticides or poor nutrition where drought has reduced flowering plants. Even when rain is abundant, winter does not provide much food.

“Those are times of dearth for bees, when there isn’t much for them to eat,” said Heintz, who works out of Tucson, Ariz., and previously was with the Almond Board of California, based in Modesto.

Heintz talked about the effort during a visit Wednesday to Silveira’s orchard, on 40 hilly acres along Twenty-Six Mile Road. The seeds he sowed came free from Project Apis m., which operates on about $100,000 in grants each year. The mix includes a few varieties of mustard, which put out yellow flowers before the almond bloom, and clover, which bear red, white or purple flowers afterward.

Heintz said the diverse food in the orchard, combined with nearby drinking water, “is exactly what we need. This is a bee spa.”

Almond blooms still are the favored food for the bees, she added, and they will not fill up on the supplemental plantings at the expense of pollinating the crop.

The effort so far covers only about 3,000 of the 860,000 acres of almonds in California, but Heintz said she would like to see it become a common practice. She is collecting data on how the supplemental food sources affect nutrition, colony population and other factors.

Silveira has taken part for two years. He said some almond growers might worry about these plants taking soil moisture from the trees, but that has not been a problem. He also noted that the mustard and clover protect the ground from erosion and take up nitrate from fertilizer, reducing the risk of tainted groundwater.

Silveira plans to mow the plants when the flowering in done, so they will decompose well in advance of the almond harvest. The nuts are shaken to the ground by machines, and growers do not like to have too much debris lying there.

Silveira rented the colonies from Hughson-area beekeeper Kevin Peavey, who is taking part in the effort for the first time this year.

“The bees are going to have more pollen and nectar to gather,” Peavey said. “The more they are fed, the stronger they are.”

Link to story

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USDA opens public comment period for Ag Conservation Easement Program


U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack has announced that the U.S. Department of Agriculture is accepting public comments on its interim final rule for the new Agricultural Conservation Easement Program (ACEP), designed to help producers protect working agricultural lands and wetlands. The 2014 Farm Bill consolidated three previous conservation easement programs into ACEP to make it easier for diverse agricultural landowners to fully benefit from conservation initiatives.

“Since 2009, USDA has worked with producers and private landowners to enroll a record number of acres in conservation programs. This interim final rule takes into account recommendations from agricultural landowners and conservation stakeholders about how to better streamline and enhance conservation easement processes,” Vilsack said.

The USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) administers ACEP, a voluntary program created in the 2014 Farm bill to protect and restore critical wetlands on private and tribal lands through the wetland reserve easement component. ACEP also encourages farmers, ranchers and non-industrial private forest landowners to keep their private and tribal land in agricultural use through the agricultural land easement component. ACEP also conserves grasslands, including rangeland, pastureland and shrubland.

ACEP’s agricultural land easement component offers many benefits to landowners and citizens. The easements protect the long-term viability of the nation’s food supply by preventing conversion of productive working lands to non-agricultural uses. Other benefits include environmental quality, historic preservation, wildlife habitat and protection of open space.

The official notice of the proposed ACEP interim final rule can be found in the Federal Register. Electronic comments during the 60-day comment period must be submitted through Comments also can be hand carried or mailed to Public Comments Processing, Attn: Docket No. NRCS-2014-0011, Regulatory and Agency Policy Team, Strategic Planning and Accountability, U.S. Department of Agriculture, Natural Resources Conservation Service, 5601 Sunnyside Avenue, Building 1-1112D, Beltsville, MD 20705.

Please visit the ACEP page or Farm Bill Program Rules page for more information on the ACEP statutory changes.

Link to news release

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Celebrating Fairness and Accuracy in the Marketplace: March 1-7 is National Weights and Measures Week

Toledo Scale

“No Springs – Honest Weight.”

A taxi fare, an ounce of gold, a pound of butter, a milligram of medication, a ton of rice, an acre of land, a gallon of gas … What do they have in common? We get what we pay for because these measurements are made by machines and people who operate according to a recognized system called “weights and measures.”

March 1-7 is National Weights and Measures Week, celebrating the evolution of a system that dates back to 1799 in this country. Here in California, more than 1.4 million devices are used to weigh and measure in commercial transactions. CDFA’s Division of Measurement Standards teams with county officials to make sure these devices are accurate. Inspectors also verify that advertised prices match what is charged at the checkout counter, and they make sure the amount of a product inside the box matches the claims on the outside.

“Agriculture is a perfect example of an industry that benefits from a dependable, verifiable system of weights and measures,” says Kristin Macey, director of CDFA’s Division of Measurement Standards. “Over the years, our division’s work has expanded to encompass not just farm-related measurements but also alternative fuels, supermarket scanners, railway systems that weigh trains while they are in motion, and even software-based measuring systems for a broad range of commodities and industries.”

For commerce to function – whether it’s a purchase at the local farmers’ market or a contract between multinational corporations – the integrity of weights and measures is a foundational element of our system. Please join CDFA and measurement standards officials across the country in observing National Weights and Measures Week March 1-7.

For more information on the history of weights and measures in California, click here.

Teachers and parents: there’s also a cool online “Kid’s Corner” about weights and measures here.


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Secretary Ross views Ag water solutions – from the Santa Cruz Sentinel

Secretary Karen Ross hearing about water usage and conservation at a Santa Cruz County farm this week.

By Donna Jones

The first step toward finding solutions to long-standing groundwater overdraft in the Pajaro Valley was to acknowledge the problem and agriculture’s contribution to it, said Miles Reiter, chairman and CEO of Driscoll’s Strawberry Associates Inc.

Reiter’s remark came during a visit by California Food and Agriculture Secretary Karen Ross to Driscoll’s Watsonville headquarters Tuesday.

The visit, which also included a stop at a raspberry farm on Holohan Road, showcased Driscoll’s efforts to tackle the groundwater problem in advance of a campaign aimed at raising the profile of the business community in the state conversation about water. The push, organized by Ceres, a nonprofit advocate of sustainable economies, is set to launch in March.

“We’re still more of the problem than the solution, but we have a tremendous amount of motivation,” said Reiter, who’s involved in water policy at the state level as well. “We absolutely need this resource for our business, and we live in the communities where we operate.”

The Pajaro Valley has been consuming about 12,000 acre-feet more groundwater than is recharged by annual rainfall for decades. The result has been dropping levels of fresh water in the aquifer and saltwater intrusion.

An acre-foot is about 326,000 gallons of water, or enough, on average, to irrigate a half-acre of strawberries.

After years of strife over the issue, Driscoll’s spearheaded the formation of the Community Water Dialogue, a coalition of farmers, landowners and resource agencies, to find answers.

The issue is crucial for Driscoll’s, Reiter said, because its crops are almost all grown in areas that rely on groundwater and overdraft is not confined to the Pajaro Valley. He said he came to believe the problem could be solved, and that the best solution would come from the people who helped create it.

In the Pajaro Valley, agriculture is responsible for about 85 percent of water consumption.

Emily Paddock, water resources manager for Driscoll’s Northern District, detailed the accomplishments of the coalition, such as installation of a wireless network that allows farmers throughout the valley to monitor irrigation remotely to ensure efficient water use.

Paddock also said since 2013 Driscoll’s has required its growers to track and report water use through electronic devices installed on wells. The tracking aims to identify problem areas to fix and successful practices to share, she said.

Ross said Californians are rethinking water policy in light of the drought, and there’s a potential for more holistic policies than in the past. For example, when the state adopted storm water regulations, capturing runoff wasn’t part of the conversation.

“The issue has renewed everyone’s focus on reusing water, recycling water, knowing where every molecule of water is going,” Ross said. “This is an opportunity for us.”

Link to story

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Export Training Course Comes to CDFA

CalAgX-Final-Logo-e1399506124590This April, CDFA will be jointly hosting CALAGX 2015 – the only comprehensive export training program available to California’s specialty crop growers.  The program provides intensive training to help companies move their products into foreign markets, led by instructors who are experts in the fields of banking/finance, shipping/logistics and sales & marketing.

“The CalAgX Training Program assisted our company by helping us better understand and respond to foreign sales inquiries, as well as navigate foreign market requirements,” said Gold River Orchards President Don Barton, a past participant of the training program.  “We’ve seen success with this program and it has been very useful for our company.”


Participants in a recent CalAgX Training

The 2015 California Agricultural Export Training (CalAgX) Program is a six session seminar program held over a two month period and focuses on issues such as finance, export documentation, market barriers and federal/state resources.   More than 300 companies have taken CalAgX since its inception in 2005 and past participants have included Blue Diamond Growers, Earthbound Farm, Harris Fresh, Morning Star Packing Company, National Raisins, Point Conception Wines, Ratto Bros, and Summit Almonds.

“Interest in international trade continues to grow”, said Alicia Rios with the State Center Community College District. The District, part of the statewide Center’s for International Trade Development, are the organizers of the training program. “As incomes rise in foreign markets, California’s specialty crops are increasingly in demand among the world’s consumers.  We are seeing a lot of specialized food companies taking advantage of these international opportunities.”

Applications are now being accepted through April 10, 2015. Training will be held in Salinas, Fresno and Sacramento and classes begin the week of April 13th. For more information, please visit or call 559.324.6401.

The CalAgX program is hosted by the California Center for International Trade Development at State Center Community College District, and is funded by the 2012 Specialty Crop Block Grant program of the United States Department of Agriculture, and is presented by the California Centers for International Trade Development in cooperation with the California Department of Food and Agriculture


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A new network for women in agriculture – from the USDA

By Krysta Harden, Deputy Secretary, USDA

To be a woman in agriculture is to face a unique set of challenges. And because I know all too well the trials that women can face as they look to take on leadership roles, I made it a goal as USDA’s Deputy Secretary to start a community for women leaders in agriculture.

This past fall, I held a White House discussion with farmers, agribusiness, academics and youth leaders about the opportunities that exist to help advance women in agriculture to leadership positions. Since that meeting, the response has been overwhelming. Women from all walks of life and every sector of the agriculture supply chain are empowering one another, and they’re sharing beautiful photographs and touching stories about how they’ve done it.

Today, I am announcing the creation of the Women in Agriculture Mentoring Network. This newly established network is designed to support and engage women across all areas of agriculture and to foster professional partnerships between women with shared backgrounds, interests, and professional goals.

We have created an e-mail address,, for you to share your suggestions, stories and other snippets on how we can build a new generation of women leaders in agriculture. By e-mailing us, you will automatically be added to the Women in Agriculture Mentoring Network.

I am truly excited by the passion and confidence I continue to see in women in agriculture across the country. In the office, on the road, I am constantly stopped by young women looking to find mentorship, or current leaders looking to lift up our next generation. Now, with our new network, you can.

This is just the first step in giving women the tools they need to be successful agricultural leaders. Keep sharing your stories using #womeninag and stay tuned for more information on the Women in Agriculture Mentoring Network.


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Pooch sniffs out forbidden fruit and bad bugs – from the Riverside Press-Enterprise

Bishop, a parcel inspection dog in San Bernardino County.

Bishop, a parcel inspection dog in San Bernardino County.

By Jan Sears

The work day starts early for Bishop, a gangly yellow lab, and his handler, Kristina Cummings.

By 4:30 a.m. the two San Bernardino County agriculture department workers are on the job, checking out boxes that are being loaded onto trucks at UPS or Fed-Ex shipping hubs.

The good-natured dog isn’t hunting for drugs or weapons – he’s searching for fruit, vegetables, plant material, soil or live insects. When he sniffs out a box with anything like that inside, he eagerly pounces on it, digging so energetically he sometimes dents or punctures the box.

Cummings, 28, and her partner, Joshua Hardeman, 25, set the box aside and Hardeman opens it to see if it’s something the dog was trained to find. If so, Bishop gets a treat.

Some days, Bishop gets lots of treats.

“At UPS today, he alerted on 42 boxes,” Cummings said Tuesday, Feb. 10.

Not everything he finds is a forbidden substance.

Many of the boxes Bishop alerts on have been properly inspected and certified. Those usually, though not always, are found to be pest-free and sent along their way. It’s the fruit and plants arriving in unmarked boxes that are the biggest problem.

On Jan. 2, Bishop made a major find at a Fed-Ex shipping hub in Ontario. He sniffed out an unmarked box that was found to contain seven pounds of mandarin oranges sent from Louisiana, said Sandy Cleland, deputy agriculture commissioner in San Bernardino County.

Along with the mandarins were stems and leaves and two A-rated pests – citrus snow scale and tea scale. The A rating means that if the pests got into California’s citrus crops, they could have a significant negative economic impact.

The shipment also violated a federal quarantine for huanglongbing, or citrus greening disease, and the Asian citrus psyllid, which carries the disease.

The California Department of Food and Agriculture has 13 dog teams checking for illegally shipped agricultural material in counties with major shipping hubs, from San Francisco and Sacramento south to San Diego.

Like the other dogs, Bishop spends his days in busy, noisy, sometimes hot warehouses, picking through boxes on moving conveyor belts, checking out rolling bins loaded with parcels and stretching up to give boxes on shelves a once over.

The San Bernardino County Department of Agriculture/Weights and Measures had two teams as recently as February 2014, but detector dog Kiwi had to retire because of a torn ligament. Hardeman adopted her.

Link to story

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