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Secretary's Column: "The Peoples' Department: 150 Years of USDA"

Posted by Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack in Conservation USDA Results Food and Nutrition Forestry Rural Research and Science Trade
May 11, 2012

On May 15, we will recognize the 150th anniversary of the founding of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.  On that date in 1862, President Abraham Lincoln signed into law an act of Congress establishing USDA.

Two and a half years after he established the Department, in what would be his final annual message to Congress, Lincoln called USDA "The People's Department."

President Lincoln knew the importance of agriculture to our prosperity – particularly at a time when about half of all Americans lived on the farm. And while that number today stands at about 2 percent, our values are still rooted in rural America.

As the United States has changed and evolved over the years, at USDA we have not lost sight of Lincoln’s vision. Through our work on food, agriculture, economic development, science, natural resource conservation and a host of other issues, USDA has impacted the lives of generations of Americans.

And over the past three years, we have furthered that commitment to this nation.

USDA has supported producers – making a record number of farm loans, maintaining a strong safety net, and expanding markets to drive record exports.

We’ve stood by rural communities – supporting more than 6,000 community facilities projects, providing more than 50,000 loans to help rural businesses create jobs, and investing in thousands of infrastructure projects that have delivered modern broadband, water and electric services to millions.

We’ve enrolled a record number of acres in conservation programs, and laid out a sensible new planning rule for 193 million acres of National Forests to promote job growth while conserving the environment.

USDA has continued its history of groundbreaking research. For example, we’ve invested about $320 million to accelerate research on the next generation of renewable energy – so we can create jobs and ensure America’s energy security for years to come.

And we’re helping families lead healthy lives.  USDA provides nutrition assistance for one in four Americans, enabling them to put healthy meals on the table, even when times are tough, and we’re serving healthier school breakfast and lunch to 32 million kids a day.

Today, USDA truly remains a “Peoples’ Department” that touches the life of every American. Folks depend on us. That’s why I’m committed to leveraging the efforts of our Department and more than 100,000 hardworking USDA employees to continue creating jobs, supporting rural communities and helping our country prosper.

As we commemorate 150 years of accomplishments, USDA is looking forward to addressing the changing needs of agriculture and rural America.

For our small towns and communities looking to compete in a globalizing world, we’ll be there with access to broadband, critical infrastructure and support for new businesses.

USDA will continue its support for the next generation of renewable fuels and help promote advanced, bio-based products.

And we’ll keep working closely with America’s agricultural producers to maintain a dependable safety net for their work – which ultimately is connected to 1 in 12 American jobs – and ensure the food supply we need to feed a growing world population.

I hope Americans will join us in our commemoration of 150 years of USDA. This is a great time to learn about this Department’s contributions to the strength of our nation, and to see how we can continue to partner with Americans working to provide a better life for their families.

I invite everyone to visit to learn more about USDA’s history and our plans for the future – as the “Peoples’ Department” continues serving all Americans, every day and every way.

For an audio version of this week’s column, please click here.