USDA Seeks Partner Proposals to Protect and Restore Critical Wetlands

Source: Press Release, United States Department of Agriculture

WASHINGTON, June 22, 2015 – Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack today announced the availability of $17.5 million in financial and technical assistance to help eligible conservation partners voluntarily protect, restore and enhance critical wetlands on private and tribal agricultural lands.

“USDA has leveraged partnerships to accomplish a great deal on America’s wetlands over the past two decades, Vilsack said. “This year’s funding will help strengthen these partnerships and achieve greater wetland acreage throughout the nation.”

Funding will be provided through the Wetland Reserve Enhancement Partnership (WREP), a special enrollment option under the Agricultural Conservation Easement Program’s Wetland Reserve Easement component. It is administered by the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS). Under WREP, states, local units of governments, non-governmental organizations and American Indian tribes collaborate with USDA through cooperative and partnership agreements. These partners work with willing tribal and private landowners who voluntarily enroll eligible land into easements to protect, restore and enhance wetlands on their properties. WREP was created through the 2014 Farm Bill and was formerly known as the Wetlands Reserve Enhancement Program.

Wetland reserve easements allow landowners to successfully enhance and protect habitat for wildlife on their lands, reduce impacts from flooding, recharge groundwater and provide outdoor recreational and educational opportunities. The voluntary nature of NRCS’ easement programs allows effective integration of wetland restoration on working landscapes, providing benefits to farmers and ranchers who enroll in the program, as well as benefits to the local and rural communities where the wetlands exist.

Proposals must be submitted to NRCS state offices by July 31, 2015. Projects can range from individual to watershed-wide to ecosystem-wide. Under a similar program in the 2008 Farm Bill, NRCS and its partners entered into 272 easements that enrolled more than 44,020 acres of wetlands from 2009 through 2013. Most of these agreements occurred through the Mississippi River Basin Healthy Watersheds Initiative (MRBI). Through partnerships, MRBI identifies high-priority watersheds where focused conservation on agricultural land can make the most gains in improving local, state and regional water quality. The new collaborative WREP will build on those successes by providing the financial and technical assistance necessary for states, non-governmental organizations and tribes to leverage resources to restore and protect wetlands and wildlife habitat.

Through WREP, NRCS will sign multi-year agreements with partners to leverage resources, including funding, to achieve maximum wetland restoration, protection and enhancement and to create optimum wildlife habitat on enrolled acres. WREP partners are required to contribute a funding match for financial or technical assistance. These partners work directly with eligible landowners interested in enrolling their agricultural land into conservation wetland easements.

Today’s announcement builds on the roughly $332 million USDA has announced this year to protect and restore agricultural working lands, grasslands and wetlands. Collectively, NRCS’s easement programs help productive farm, ranch and tribal lands remain in agriculture and protect the nation’s critical wetlands and grasslands, home to diverse wildlife and plant species. Under the former Wetlands Reserve Program, private landowners, tribes and entities such as land trusts and conservation organizations enrolled 2.7 million acres through 14,500 agreements for a total NRCS and partner investment of $4.3 billion in financial and technical assistance.

The funding announced today was authorized by the 2014 Farm Bill, which builds on historic economic gains in rural America over the past six years, while achieving meaningful reform and billions of dollars in savings for taxpayers. Since enactment, USDA has made significant progress to implement each provision of this critical legislation, including providing disaster relief to farmers and ranchers; strengthening risk management tools; expanding access to rural credit; funding critical research; establishing innovative public-private conservation partnerships; developing new markets for rural-made products; and investing in infrastructure, housing, and community facilities to help improve quality of life in rural America. For more information, visit

Visit NRCS’s ACEP webpage to learn more about NRCS’s wetland conservation options.

NRCS California Accepting Applications for Tribal Initiative

SOURCE USDA – Natural Resources Conservation Service

DAVIS, Calif., Feb. 12, 2015 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ — The USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) in California is again partnering with California’s tribal nations to make financial assistance available to help tribal farmers, ranchers and non-industrial private forest operators put additional conservation on the ground.

The Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) Tribal Initiative provides financial and technical assistance to Tribes and tribal producers who voluntarily agree to NRCS guidelines for installation of approved conservation practices that address program priorities related to addressing soil, water, air quality, domestic livestock, wildlife habitat, surface and groundwater conservation, energy conservation, and related natural resource concerns.

While applications are taken continuously throughout the year, eligible farmers and ranchers are encouraged to submit their applications as soon as possible. Applications will be screened and ranked in four batching periods (February 20, April 17, June 19 and July 17).

Eligible applications will be considered based on the following priorities:

Five landscape resource priorities are aimed at improving and managing forest health and reducing wildfire threats, as well as rangeland health and water quality. The five priorities areas are:

  • Northern Coastal Tribal Forestland in Del Norte, Humboldt, Lake, Mendocino, western Shasta, western Siskiyou, Sonoma and Trinity
  • Northern Coastal Tribal Rangeland in Alameda, Contra Costa, Del Norte, Humboldt, Lake, Marin, Mendocino, Monterey, Napa, San Benito, San Luis Obispo, San Mateo, Santa Barbara, Santa Clara, Santa Cruz, western Shasta, western Siskiyou, Solano, Sonoma and Trinity counties
  • Inter Mountain/Central Sierra Forestland in Amador, Butte, Calaveras, El Dorado, Fresno, Lassen, Madera, Mariposa, Modoc, Nevada, Placer, Plumas, eastern Shasta, Sierra, eastern Siskiyou, Tulare and Tuolumne Counties.
  • Inter Mountain/Central Sierra Rangeland in Amador, Butte, Calaveras, El Dorado, Fresno, Kings, Lassen, Madera, Mariposa, Modoc, Nevada, Placer, Plumas, eastern Shasta, Sierra, eastern Siskiyou, Tulare and Tuolumne Counties.
  • South Coast and Desert Tribal Forests and Rangeland in Imperial, Inyo, Kern, Mono, Riverside, San Bernardino and San Diego counties.

Two statewide resource priorities are aimed at reducing soil erosion, improving irrigation water efficiency, water quality, restoring and managing native plants for traditional Native American food and fiber production. The two statewide priorities are:

  • Statewide Tribal Poly-farms: small, biologically diverse farms and medium size agricultural operations for subsistence, intra-tribal and external commerce.
  • Native Plants Restoration: culturally important tribal plants for food and fiber.

There are 109 federally recognized American Indian tribes in California. There are at least 69 non-federally recognized tribes in California petitioning for federal recognition. The federally recognized tribes have jurisdiction over 635,739 acres of Tribal trust land in California.

NRCS has provided leadership in a partnership effort to help America’s private land owners and managers conserve their soil, water and other natural resources since 1935. For more information on NRCS, visit


USDA dumps millions in lunch money on local food


By Nathaneal Johnson, Grist

For the past couple years, kids around the U.S. have been sharing pictures of their gross school lunches on social media. These images are often accompanied by the hashtag #thanksMichelleObama, since the first lady has been trying to make school lunches healthier. The rationale is that these efforts are actually making the lunches yuckier.

The thing is, raise your hand if your public-school lunches were delicious. Didn’t think so. It’s a clever political dodge to focus the dissatisfaction with student lunches on the reformer-in-chief, because disgusting school food has been a dependable reminder that we live in America for as long as most of us can remember.

Sure, there are growing pains that come with the reforms. Schools have already cut budgets to the bone, and now many are having to provide money to the nutrition program. It makes no sense that we have to choose between educating kids and feeding them. Still, students blaming Michelle Obama for bad school lunches is like prisoners blaming a reform-minded warden for putting the guards in a foul mood.

For years, the U.S. has been funding school lunch programs at a level that pretty much only allows for disgustingness. And that hasn’t changed. But the USDA is now parceling out money to help various pilot programs and projects around the country. On Dec. 2, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack went down to Common Market, a sustainable food hub in Philadelphia, to announce a new round of Farm to School grants (details here).

Since 2009, the USDA has provided $160 million for school kitchen equipment, $15 million for making the connections between farm and school, and $5.2 million for training and technical assistance.

Common Market is one of the grant recipients. The money will allow it to do more work with public charter schools. When I asked the co-founder, Haile Johnston, if he thought the money would make student lunches better, he didn’t hesitate. “Without a doubt,” he said.

“When we are able communicate where and how food is grown, students get more interested in it,” he said. “Also, the food we are working with is not processed. It comes from local farms. So it’s fresher, it tastes better, and it has more nutrients.”

Turning to local food can save schools money in the long run. In California’s San Joaquin Valley, Scott Soiseth has managed to make school lunch popular enough that it’s become a money-making operation. It’s important to note that California provides more money for school lunches than many other states, but for most schools in California that doesn’t translate to radically better lunches or profitability. Soiseth is proof that local food can strengthen the bottom line.

If reforms go forward, someday the disgusting school lunch — that constant in American life — might actually vanish. Maybe, just maybe, we could be a little more like the French. If that happens, you can expect the same people protesting school lunches now to begin lamenting the loss of mystery meat, and “hot dish” under the hashtag #FreedomLunches.

USDA Announces $5.7 Million in Training Grants and other New Resources to Help Schools Serve Healthier Meals and Snacks

Source: USDA

WASHINGTON, August 21, 2014 – Agriculture Under Secretary Kevin Concannon today announced additional tools to help schools serve healthier meals and snacks as students return for the new school year.

The announcement includes $5.7 million in Team Nutrition grants to state agencies administering the National School Lunch and Child and Adult Care Food Programs. The grants will help states expand and enhance training programs that help schools encourage kids to make healthy choices. Several states will use the grants to increase the number of schools implementing Smarter Lunchroom strategies, which are methods for encouraging kids to choose healthy foods that were developed by child nutrition experts. Research has shown these strategies successfully lead to healthier choices among students. USDA is also funding 2,500 toolkits to provide school districts with the resources they need to take advantage of research on Smarter Lunchroom strategies.

In addition, USDA is re-launching the HealthierUS School Challenge, a voluntary program which provides financial awards to schools that choose to take steps to encourage kids to make healthy choices and be more physically active. All schools participating in the National School Lunch Program and the School Breakfast Program have the option to participate in HUSSC. Schools earning HUSSC designation receive a financial award, ranging from $500 to $2,000, based on the level of achievement.

“We’re committed to supporting schools who want to ensure students head back to a healthier school environment this fall,” said Concannon. “Parents, teachers, and school nutrition professionals want the best for their children, and want to provide them with proper nutrition so that they can learn and grow into healthy adults. USDA is proud to support the Smarter Lunchroom movement that provides schools with practical, evidence-based tools that they can use to help their students have a healthier school day.”

Smarter Lunchrooms, developed by the Cornell Center for Behavioral Economics in Child Nutrition Programs (BEN) Center and funded in part by the USDA, is a set of best practices that have been shown to help encourage kids to make healthy choices. By using environmental cues such as better product placement and using creative names for healthier foods, these practical, research-based techniques increase student selection of healthier items and reduce plate waste. By changing the display and placement of fruit, for example, the researchers saw a doubling of sales. Similarly, creative naming and display of vegetables increased selection by 40 to 70 percent. Concannon said the Smarter Lunchroom strategies are also being incorporated into the criteria for HealthierUS School Challenge.

The new support for schools announced today builds on a number of resources that USDA has provided to help schools provide students with healthier food options, including technical assistance, resource materials, and $522 million in grants and additional reimbursements. More than 90 percent of schools report that they are successfully meeting those nutrition standards, which were based on recommendations from pediatricians and other child health experts at the Institute of Medicine. Research has shown that a majority of students like the healthier meals and that the standards have successfully increased consumption of fruits and vegetables. New Smart Snacks in School nutrition standards implemented this school year will offer students more whole grains, fruits and vegetables, leaner protein, lower-fat dairy – while decreasing foods with excessive amounts of added sugar, solid fats, and sodium.

USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service administers 15 nutrition assistance programs. In addition to NSLP and SBP, these programs include the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, the Summer Food Service Program, and the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) which together comprise America’s nutrition safety net. For more information, visit

GMO labeling debate shifts to Olympia


Credit: AFP/Getty Images
Credit: AFP/Getty Images

by Associated Press

January 17, 2014

SEATTLE — Months after Washington voters narrowly rejected an initiative requiring labeling of genetically modified foods, lawmakers are reviving the GMO debate in Olympia.

One bill would require labeling genetically engineered salmon for sale, even though federal regulators have not yet approved any genetically modified animals for food. Another bill requires many foods containing GMOs to carry a label.

The debate comes as the U.S. Department of Agriculture is considering approval of an apple engineered not to brown. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is also weighing an application for a genetically modified salmon that grows twice as fast as normal.

In Olympia, a public hearing is scheduled Friday in the House Committee on Agriculture & Natural Resources on the bill. That measure also would prohibit genetically engineered finfish from being produced in state waters

6 Questions With USDA’s Kunesh & the Need for Tribes to Use Programs

Brenda Austin, ICTMN

Patrice Kunesh is the Deputy Under Secretary for the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Rural Development (USDA-RD). She began her tenure at the USDA on May 22, 2013, and among her many responsibilities are the oversight of Operations and Management, the Office of Civil Rights and she also works with the state directors.

According to a USDA press release, during fiscal year 2013, Rural Development’s electric programs invested a historic high of $275 million for new and improved electric infrastructure to more than 80,000 American Indians and Alaska Natives. That total includes a loan for copy67 million to the Navajo Tribal Utility Authority in Arizona. Through their Community Facilities program, Rural Development invested copy14 million this year in 73 loans and grants, representing a 600 percent increase over FY 2012. Of that funding, $3 million (24 grants) was provided to tribal colleges and universities. Rural Development also made their largest single investment to a tribe this year to help the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians finance a new healthcare facility in the form of a $40 million direct loan and a copy0 million loan guarantee.

Deputy Under Secretary Kunesh recently spoke with Indian Country Today Media Network about Rural Development’s program assistance to American Indian tribes, goals for 2014 and her own interest in Indian country.

With your background in tribal law, governance and economic development, what made you want to make the leap to USDA Rural Development?

It was an opportunity I couldn’t refuse. I was teaching at the University of South Dakota School of Law and received a call from the White House asking if I would consider coming to Washington D.C. and working on behalf of Indian Affairs in the Solicitors Office at the Department of the Interior (DOI).

Then around the election I received another call from the White House saying that I have done good work for the Administration and would I consider branching out. They asked me where might I go and the USDA was at the top of my list.

In the back of my mind I have always had great admiration and appreciation for USDA. As a young mother of two little ones I had received food stamps for a number of years. I also was a recipient of WIC (Women, Infants, and Children) vouchers. I lived in public housing and went to public health clinics. It was a precarious time for me. I was able to continue my education and earn a college degree because I had food stamps.

Rural Development is about serving rural America, and Indian country is synonymous with rural America. And the needs of rural America are synonymous with the needs of Indian country.

USDA Rural Development has invested in tribal infrastructure, housing, education and health, both in grant funding and loans. Is there anything that tribe’s can or should be doing to take advantage of what Rural Development has to offer?

I don’t think tribes are doing enough. Tribes don’t know generally what we can do in terms of our programs and in terms of housing, business and utility infrastructure.

One of the things I am doing with my colleagues in Natural Resource Conservation Services, the Farm Service, the Office of Tribal Relations and our Food and Nutrition Services is to spread the word wherever we possibly can. So as busy as this week was with our observances of Native American Heritage Month and the White House Tribal Leader Summit we are working with other federal agencies such as the Departments of Energy, Commerce and the U.S. Treasury, as well as the Department of the Interior, to let tribes know there is a whole host of support that we can provide to them that they may not realize is available to them.

To my great surprise and tremendous appreciation I find that Rural Development alone last year invested $660 million in Indian country. That is tribal colleges and tribal schools, health clinics and an abundance of housing that we have built on Indian reservations.

But more than the investments that Rural Development has made in terms of funding, we have really forged wonderful relationships with Indian tribes. And much of this work in the field has taken many years of developing the trust, rapport and respect of tribal leaders, and to help provide the technical assistance tribes may need to get the grant or loan application in to be awarded these funds.

What are your goals for working with tribes in 2014?

In 2014 we are going to be trying to establish significantly more partnerships across the federal government and with tribes. Our top priority right now is that we need Congress to provide a comprehensive multi-year Food, Farm and Jobs Bill as soon as possible so we can ensure for all Americans, as well as tribal governments, that Congress is committed to supporting rural America and Indian country.

We need to put nutritious food on the table in Indian country and we need to invest in good food for tribal youth in schools. We need to continue improving infrastructure in tribal communities and that goes well beyond community centers and clinics – it’s about growing local and regional food systems to feed Indian people. It’s about reviving traditional foods that tribes have historically cultivated. It’s educating Native students at every level. So we have tremendous goals both in Rural Development and throughout the USDA.

With the current state of our economy, under funded health care and the effects of sequestration on tribal governments and employees, what relationship would you like to see this year between Rural Development and tribal nations?

We can only do this work in partnership – and the partnership between the federal government and Indian tribes is really based on a legal obligation, and I would say a moral obligation. This partnership has been our purpose since we participated in the first White House Tribal Nations Conference in 2009, but it goes beyond that in terms of trust responsibility and a trust relationship that drives us to work with tribes across the nation.

This year president Obama established the White House Council on Native American Affairs and that is to further expand the federal tribal collaboration and understanding. We are proud of our results thus far. I think we have stepped up to provide a coordinated response to many of the needs in Indian country.

We also have to recognize that our veterans have served our nation with great pride and are part of the picture here too. Native American veterans have served in greater percentage per population than any other segment of the population. We truly see that as remarkable, but also an opportunity for us to give back to them to support them and to include them in our work in very meaningful ways.

Do you believe current funding for Rural Development is at a level that can meet the needs of American Indian and Alaskan Native programs?

Definitely no. The budget is not sufficient to meet the needs in Indian country, but it’s not sufficient to meet the needs in rural America either. Rural America is the heart of the United States and the work that rural America does drives the U.S. economy in terms of feeding us and supporting all the things that we need in the U.S. and is so incredibly important. The budget is not sufficient and we really do need to look at funding levels that truly are reflective of the contributions that rural America makes and what we can provide to enhance that as well.

You are invested in Native communities and are personally of American Indian descent, did you grow up in a rural environment knowing your tribal culture and traditions?

My mother was a member of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and her father was born on the Fort Berthold Reservation in North Dakota and grew up on the Standing Rock Reservation. My grandfather left the reservation due to the harsh conditions at the time in the early 1900s.

I grew up in Minnesota knowing and feeling very grateful for our Indian family on the reservation. My father worked for Indian tribes through the Youth Conservation Corp and we participated in more of the Ojibwe culture at the time then the Lakota or Sioux communities. At that time it was the American Indian movement and a lot of Indian people were very concerned about how we were going to maintain cohesive coherent cultural ways and build strong tribal governments. And I think it was from that work and from hearing my mother talk about growing up on the reservation that I decided this is what I want to do with my life. I decided I wanted to do what I can to improve and secure the wellbeing of Indian children. That is how I started my work and that’s how I think of my work right now – through the lens of child wellbeing.



Reaching Back to Traditional Native American Cooking in Search of Healthier Meals

The curly tips of the fiddlehead fern can be found in early spring before they open to reveal a full taste akin to asparagus. U.S. Forest Service photo. -
The curly tips of the fiddlehead fern can be found in early spring before they open to reveal a full taste akin to asparagus. U.S. Forest Service photo. –

By Kathryn Sosbe, Office of Communication, U.S. Forest Service, on November 15, 2013,

Elizabeth Nelson tasted then added more spice to a soup made with fiddlehead ferns, those curly leaves of a young fern that resemble the scrolled neck of a superbly crafted violin.

Although Nelson has made the soup hundreds of times before, her culinary prowess this day is being documented for a project called Mino Wiisinidaa!, or Let’s Eat Good! – Traditional Foods for Healthy Living.

“When we were kids, my mom would send us all out with a bucket. And she said, ‘Don’t you kids come back until that bucket is filled,’ ” said Nelson, a member of the Bad River Band of the Lake Superior Tribe of Chippewa Indians Reservation in Northwest Wisconsin. “And we would go and fill them with cow slips and fiddlehead ferns. And that was our supper for the night. That was how we lived.”

Documenting Nelson’s kitchen expertise is part of a three-year Great Lakes Indian Fish & Wildlife Commission project, funded by the Administration for Native Americans. The project will encourage healthy living by reintroducing food preparation taught by elders of the Anishinaabe people and based on recipes that are decades old.

“The Mino Wiisinidaa! Let’s Eat Good! project focuses on a return to traditional Anishinaabe foods in a new and healthy way,” said LaTisha Coffin, project coordinator. “We work with many elders from our member tribes that want to pass on knowledge about our traditional foods and stories about harvesting and the healthy lifestyle that came with gathering and processing your own food.”

One of the main goals of the program is to combat diabetes, obesity, and other chronic diseases. Native Americans are at higher risk at developing pre-diabetes and diabetes, especially type 2 diabetes. Type 2 is the most common form of diabetes, and many people are unaware they are at high risk. According to the American Diabetes Association, Native Americans have the highest age adjusted rate for diabetes at 16.1 percent while the overall United States rate is half that.

LaTisha Coffin, Mino Wiisinidaa! project coordinator, harvests fiddlehead ferns that will be used in a cooking demonstration. U.S. Forest Service photo.LaTisha Coffin, Mino Wiisinidaa! project coordinator, harvests fiddlehead ferns that will be used in a cooking demonstration. U.S. Forest Service photo.


To date, more than 70 recipes have been gathered that take advantage of plants that grow in the wild in and around and the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest. Many of the recipes are aimed at getting tribal members to rediscover traditional foods in a healthier way and talking about moderation and balancing meals, especially for diabetics. In order to test and try these recipes, the project staff harvests, or wildcrafts, with tribal elders. Wildcrafting is harvesting plants from their natural environment and serves as an economical way to find edible plants that can become healthy table fare.

“When we are out harvesting with a tribal elder, we make sure to listen and learn as much as we can from them. There are always certain ways to harvest foods, certain amounts you should take while leaving the rest to return for next year,” Coffin said. “The elders tell us how to care for natural resources that we gather and harvest, so that they will be around for us to harvest next year, and for our children to harvest, and their children to harvest.”

Foraging requires knowledge about plants. Some varieties of fiddlehead fern will make you sick, and are mostly used as a diuretic. Make sure to thoroughly research plants and their look-alikes before harvesting, or harvest with an expert.

The Northern Great Lakes Visitors Center on the Chequamegon-Nicolet has become the kitchen to test out such dishes as wild rice flour breads, watercress pesto, venison cabbage rolls, and a healthier version of Nelson’s fiddlehead fern soup.

Recently, during the forest’s annual fishing day event for kids, more than 100 people got to sample another project recipe: Mole Lake Lobster, which is actually white fish that is a traditional food in the Upper Great Lakes region. Event goers also got to take home the recipe for this traditional and microwavable dish.

Other published recipes are available in Great Lakes Indian Fish & Wildlife Commissiononline newspaper.

The Mino Wiisinidaa! project will continue to host cooking demonstrations through next spring and will create and distribute a cookbook with an instructional DVD that includes all of the collected recipes, including Nelson’s soup.

– See more at:

USDA Questions Keepseagle $380 Million Foundation Proposal

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has filed a legal response questioning a plan by the lawyers for the Keepseagle plaintiffs that would allow the lawyers to create an agricultural foundation using a substantial chunk of unclaimed money that was supposed to be awarded to Indian farmers.

The government’s response, filed September 17 in D.C. District Court, says there are legal flaws with the lawyers’ approach, which calls for the creation of a “legacy foundation” to receive $380 million of unclaimed settlement funds, known in legal terms as cy pres funds.

“[G]ood reason exists to believe that the parties might not be able to agree to the sort of amendment that the plaintiffs propose: plaintiffs are proposing a modification that appears to be in tension with limits on the use of cy pres funds,” according to the USDA’s motion.

The lawyers, of the Cohen Milstein firm, have said previously that the foundation is intended to “establish a longstanding and robust funding stream for nonprofit organizations that assist Native American farmers and ranchers.” The lawyers filed their proposal with the court on August 30.

RELATED: Tribes Don’t Like Keepseagle Lawyers Controlling $380 Million of Settlement

The Choctaw Nation opposed the lawyers’ plan in a motion filed with the court September 5. Like the USDA now argues, the tribe argued in its motion that the lawyers’ plan is problematic. Tribal leaders believe their Jones Academy Foundation should be considered to receive $58.5 million of the unclaimed funds, in accordance with the current agreement.

“[W]e don’t need a new foundation; we already have tribal foundations,” Brian McClain, a legislative advocate with the tribe, told Indian Country Today Media Network in an article published September 5. “We don’t need a new organization; we already have hundreds of organizations – we call them tribal governments. What we lack is enough money to meet the needs of our members, including farmers and ranchers.”

RELATED: Choctaw Nation Wants Keepseagle Millions Awarded to Tribe’s Foundation

The USDA response notes that the Keepseagle lawyers have flexibility under the current settlement agreement to award the leftover money to non-profit organizations it chooses, yet the lawyers still want to forge a different path—a path that USDA officials seemingly cannot justify.

“If the USDA does not agree to the foundation, plaintiffs suggest that they might file a Rule 60(b)(5) motion to change the terms of the Agreement to allow for its creation,” the response states. “This suggestion appears to be flawed. Rule 60(b)(5) permits Courts to ‘relieve a party. … from a final judgment” if ‘applying it prospectively is no longer equitable.’ But the judgment in this case does not incorporate the cy pres provisions that would need to be amended to facilitate the creation of the planned foundation (e.g., the provision requiring that the funds go to an existing entity).”

The government’s response continues: “[N]o change to the final judgment that the Court could order would permit the creation of the foundation. But even if the relevant provisions were part of the final judgment, relief under Rule 60(b)(5) likely would be inappropriate because, among other reasons, there is nothing ‘[in]equitable’ about distributing the cy pres funds according to the existing Agreement.”

The agency says it is not opposed to modifying the agreement altogether. “The USDA may be willing (1) to expand the definition of Cy Pres Beneficiaries to include entities such as educational institutions and (2) to eliminate the requirement that the cy pres funds be distributed to beneficiaries in equal shares. These are just examples of changes that could be sufficiently narrow and appropriate,” according to the response. “The USDA is open to other potential changes, including how best to structure the distribution of the funds.

“But the USDA disagrees with the preliminary proposal to funnel all $380 million of the cy pres fund to an entity that both does not yet exist and that will use the money from this settlement for the ‘indefinite future,’ particularly when there are existing organizations that meet the current ‘cy pres’ definition and other options that are more closely tied to the stated goal of the settlement.”

The USDA asked the court for another 60 days to discuss the issue with the plaintiffs.

Pam Avery, a spokeswoman for the Keepseagle lawyers, said they plan to file a response in court September 24.

The $760 million settlement, approved by the court in April 2011, designated $680 million for Native American farmers who had faced discrimination from the U.S. Department of Agriculture over a period of several years in the past. Approximately $230 million was claimed.

The large amount of leftover funds in this instance is unusual, according to legal experts.



Students reject healthy school lunches, forcing U.S. districts to drop out of multibillion-dollar program


After just one year, some schools around the country are dropping out of the new federal healthier lunch program, complaining that so many students turned up their noses at meals packed with whole grains, fruits and vegetables that the cafeterias were losing money.

Federal officials say they don’t have exact numbers but have seen isolated reports of schools cutting ties with the $11-billion National School Lunch Program, which reimburses schools for meals served and gives them access to lower-priced food.

Districts that rejected the program say the reimbursement was not enough to offset losses from students who began avoiding the lunch line and bringing food from home or, in some cases, going hungry.

In this Tuesday, Sept. 11, 2012 file photo, a select healthy chicken salad school lunch, prepared under federal guidelines, sits on display at the cafeteria at Draper Middle School in Rotterdam, N.Y. After just one year, some schools across the nation are dropping out of what was touted as a healthier federal lunch program, complaining that so many students refused the meals packed with whole grains, fruits and vegetables that their cafeterias were losing money. (AP Photo/Hans Pennink, File)
In this Tuesday, Sept. 11, 2012 file photo, a select healthy chicken salad school lunch, prepared under federal guidelines, sits on display at the cafeteria at Draper Middle School in Rotterdam, N.Y. After just one year, some schools across the nation are dropping out of what was touted as a healthier federal lunch program, complaining that so many students refused the meals packed with whole grains, fruits and vegetables that their cafeterias were losing money. (AP Photo/Hans Pennink, File)

“Some of the stuff we had to offer, they wouldn’t eat,” said Catlin, Ill., Superintendent Gary Lewis, whose district saw a 10 to 12 per cent drop in lunch sales, translating to $30,000 lost under the program last year.

“So you sit there and watch the kids, and you know they’re hungry at the end of the day, and that led to some behaviour and some lack of attentiveness.”

In upstate New York, a few districts have quit the program, including the Schenectady-area Burnt Hills Ballston Lake system, whose five lunchrooms ended the year $100,000 in the red.

Near Albany, Voorheesville Superintendent Teresa Thayer Snyder said her district lost $30,000 in the first three months. The program didn’t even make it through the school year after students repeatedly complained about the small portions and apples and pears went from the tray to the trash untouched.

Districts that leave the program are free to develop their own guidelines. Voorheesville’s chef began serving such dishes as salad topped with flank steak and crumbled cheese, pasta with chicken and mushrooms, and a panini with chicken, red peppers and cheese.

In Catlin, soups and fish sticks will return to the menu this year, and the hamburger lunch will come with yogurt and a banana — not one or the other, like last year.

Nationally, about 31 million students participated in the guidelines that took effect last fall under the 2010 Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act.

Dr. Janey Thornton, deputy undersecretary for USDA’s Food, Nutrition and Consumer Services, which oversees the program, said she is aware of reports of districts quitting but is still optimistic about the program’s long-term prospects.

“Many of these children have never seen or tasted some of the fruits and vegetables that are being served before, and it takes a while to adapt and learn,” she said.

The agency had not determined how many districts have dropped out, Thornton said, cautioning that “the numbers that have threatened to drop and the ones that actually have dropped are quite different.”

The School Nutrition Association found that one per cent of 521 district nutrition directors surveyed over the summer planned to drop out of the program in the 2013-14 school year and about three per cent were considering the move.

Not every district can afford to quit. The National School Lunch Program provides cash reimbursements for each meal served: about $2.50 to $3 for free and reduced-priced meals and about 30 cents for full-price meals. That takes the option of quitting off the table for schools with large numbers of poor youngsters.

The new guidelines set limits on calories and salt, phase in more whole grains and require that fruit and vegetables be served daily. A typical elementary school meal under the program consisted of whole-wheat cheese pizza, baked sweet potato fries, grape tomatoes with low-fat ranch dip, applesauce and 1 per cent milk.

In December, the Agriculture Department, responding to complaints that kids weren’t getting enough to eat, relaxed the 2-ounce-per-day limit on grains and meats while keeping the calorie limits.

At Wallace County High in Sharon Springs, Kan., football player Callahan Grund said the revision helped, but he and his friends still weren’t thrilled by the calorie limits (750-850 for high school) when they had hours of calorie-burning practice after school. The idea of dropping the program has come up at board meetings, but the district is sticking with it for now.

“A lot of kids were resorting to going over to the convenience store across the block from school and kids were buying junk food,” the 17-year-old said. “It was kind of ironic that we’re downsizing the amount of food to cut down on obesity but kids are going and getting junk food to fill that hunger.”

To make the point, Grund and his schoolmates starred last year in a music video parody of the pop hit “We Are Young.” Instead, they sang, “We Are Hungry.”

It was funny, but Grund’s mother, Chrysanne Grund, said her anxiety was not.

“I was quite literally panicked about how we would get enough food in these kids during the day,” she said, “so we resorted to packing lunches most days.”

USDA sued over permits issued to horse slaughtering plants


The Department of Agriculture is being sued for issuing permits to horse slaughtering plants in New Mexico and Iowa.

The Obama administration opposes horse slaughtering. But the USDA was forced to issue two permits because an appropriations rider that barred the inspection of such plants lapsed.

Valley Meat Co. in New Mexico received one of the permits. The plant expects to open August 5 even though it has been denied a wastewater permit by the state

Animals rights groups and a new organization founded by former New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson (D) and actor Robert Redford hope to block the opening with their lawsuit in federal court. A hearing on a temporary restraining order is set for August 2.

At least three tribes, including one in New Mexico, have called on the USDA to issue permits for horse slaughtering plants.

Get the Story:
NM company’s plans to open a horse slaughterhouse faces a series of setbacks (AP 7/22)
Redford, Richardson form foundation that wants to join lawsuit against horse slaughter (AP 7/22)
Redford joins fight against horse slaughter (The Albuquerque Journal 7/23)