U.S. Department of Agriculture

Liz Reid / 90.5 WESA

It’s been nearly two years since a Shop ‘n Save grocery store opened on Centre Avenue in the Hill District. For decades, the neighborhood was considered a food desert, which the federal government defines as an area where residents lack access to healthy, nutritious foods, such as fruits and vegetables and whole grains.

Natalie Maynor / Flickr

This week, US Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced nearly $35 million dollars in funding for grant programs that will support local and regional food systems, including in Pittsburgh. The funds come from the Farm Bill, which allocates $30 million dollars a year for these initiatives.

Pennsylvania is receiving ten of these grants; one, of nearly 100,000 is coming to Pittsburgh. It will go toward Three Rivers Grown LLC, which is an aggregator. They purchase food and connect wholesale buyers and producers so suppliers are ensured a safe supply of regionally produced food.

One of eight Pennsylvania residents lives in a home that can’t afford enough food.

“That’s a 25 percent increase over the last decade. So whether you need help for yourself, or for your family, or both we want people to move beyond the shame to say if you need help, get it,” said Joel Berg, executive director of the New York City Coalition Against Hunger.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is hoping to reach more Pennsylvania residents deemed “hungry” and in need of food assistance, so it’s launching a hotline outreach campaign nationwide.

Pennsyvlania Department of Agriculture

Invasive insects can have devastating impacts on native plants and trees, as evidenced by the Emerald Ash Borer’s effect on the state’s ash trees.

That insect was first found in Michigan in 2002; it continued to spread and has wiped out tens of millions of ash trees nationwide, according to the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources. Now there’s another bug to worry about – the Spotted Lanterfly. The pest was first spotted last fall in Berks County.

“We believe it’s been here a season or two, so it can live here, it can survive here, it’s been tested,” said Russell Redding, Pennsylvania Agriculture Secretary. “What we want to do is send it packing.”

As a junior business major at Elizabethtown College, Sarah Lanphier and her mother founded “Nuts About Granola,” a wholesome snack company in York, Pa. that buys local ingredients. 

Six years later, after impressive growth, “Nuts About Granola” is a perfect example of a small rural business poised to go global, according to U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack.

The Obama administration picked the Pittsburgh region Wednesday to launch an effort to boost exports and grow rural economies. 

The Pittsburgh Zoo and PPG Aquarium has agreed to pay $4,550 to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, ending the agency's investigation into the death of a child who was fatally mauled after falling into the wild African Painted dog exhibit.

Barbara Baker, president and CEO of the Pittsburgh Zoo, said it’s the right time to take the next step.

“Safety is always our top priority,” she said in a written statement. “All of our exhibits meet the highest USDA and AZA standards and we will continue to work with both agencies to ensure those standards are met and exceeded.”

Many students rely on free and reduced price meals during the school year and still need help over the summer.

In 2012, the Department of Agriculture served 2.3 million children at 38,800 sites on a typical summer day through the Summer Food Service Program. 

Free meals are available at sites all over the country to anyone 18 and under, or 21 and under if disabled, according to Cindy Moore of the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank. People can go to any location — no registration or documentation is necessary.