USDA

JazzyJeff85 / Flickr

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has set new standards of nutrition for school meals, school vending machines, and snack bars. The agency wants to limit fat, sugar, sodium and calories.

A study by a team at the University of Michigan's Institute for Social Research shows how badly school menus and food offerings needed to be overhauled.

Yvonne Terry-McElrath is an author of the study.

*Listen to Terry-McElrath below

Shawn Malone / UP Second Wave

With its rocky soil, thick forests and painfully short growing season, the Upper Peninsula is never going to look like Iowa or Kansas – and that's okay. For more than a century, a hardy batch of growers and livestock farmers have managed to survive and prosper in these less-than-ideal conditions. Thanks to new technologies and some decidedly low-tech solutions, the U.P.'s latest generation of ag workers are more productive than ever. Ultimately, the fruits of their labor may be felt – and tasted – far beyond the region's borders.

Age-Old Limitations
If you're a U.P. native, you don't need an advanced degree to understand why agriculture is challenging here. But Alger County MSU Extension Director Jim Isleib has one, so people tend to listen to his thoughts on this issue. "Poor soils and a short growing season – that about sums it up," he says. 

cygnus921 / Creative Commons

The U.S. Department of Agriculture is trying to give honeybees more and better-quality food in the Midwest.

Dan Zay is a biologist with the USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service in Michigan. He says the agency hopes a better variety of high-quality flowering plants will help honeybees rebound from major population losses over the last eight years.

“It’s said that one in three mouthfuls of food and drink that we consume involves the efforts of honeybees,” Zay said.

State of Michigan

The U.S. Department of Agriculture is expanding a pilot program to help children get nutritious meals when their school's free lunch program has shut down for the summer.

For a long time, the agency has funded a program that sets up meal sites at churches and other locations, where children can go to get meals in the summer time.

But many children in rural and inner-city neighborhoods have no site near them, or no safe and reliable way to get there.

Costs of child-rearing
Expenditures on Children by Families / USDA

According to the 2011 Expenditures on Children by Families annual report released by the USDA today, raising a baby born in 2011 will cost a middle-class family about $234,900 in today's currency.

According to the report,

This represents a 3.5 percent increase from 2010. Expenses for transportation, child care, education, and food saw the largest percentage increases related to child rearing from 2010. There were smaller increases in housing, clothing, health care, and miscellaneous expenses on a child during the same period.

The report states that most of this money will fund the child’s housing, child care, education and food expenses through age 17, representing roughly 64 percent of all costs. As the study only follows children from birth through high school, costs associated with pregnancy and post-high school education are omitted from these numbers.

Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

More than half a million Michigan kids qualified for free and reduced lunches last year. But only about 1 in 6 of them took advantage of the programs offered during the three month summer break.

By the numbers

  • The nation: 18.5 million children are eligible – 3.3 million (18%) participated
  • In Michigan: 546,000 children are eligible – 92,500 (17%) participated
A farm in Michigan
Maureen Reilly - flickr user

Update 2:38 p.m.:

There are more declarations of natural disaster areas in the state of Michigan. The 21 counties I wrote about below were for "excessive heat" disasters. The USDA has also issued natural disaster declarations for frost (the excessive cold occurred from March 1st through May 16th), AND for storms and rain.

The 32 counties that received the frost declarations can be found this FEMA page.