On May 15th, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) celebrated its 150th anniversary, kicking off a series of events to commemorate the creation of this important government agency. Originally created to provide support, education, and assistance to the 50% of the U.S. population that worked in the agriculture industry, the USDA now provides critical short and long term services like food inspections, rural development, conservation, and food assistance here in the U.S. and in other areas around the world. By helping farmers make better use of advancements in technology, setting standards for crop production, food handling, and energy conservation, and ensuring we have access to a safe, healthy food supply, the USDA has played its part in making the U.S the country that it is today.
One hundred and fifty years ago, President Lincoln signed legislation that created the USDA. The President believed establishing the USDA was the best way to support and expand U.S. agriculture which was seen as the key to providing for a prosperous country. At that time in our history, farmers were the largest class of workers and creating a government department geared towards this industry was important to ensuring that the agriculture industry continued to prosper.
According to the USDA, the original goals of this new department were to collect and publish statistical information about agriculture, introduce plants and animals to American farms, provide assistance and information to farmers, test agriculture tools, analyze the chemical composition of soil, grain, produce, plants, and fertilizer, create a higher education program for entomology and botany, and establish both a library and a museum dedicated to agriculture.
Both President Lincoln and the first commissioner, Issac Newton felt strongly that “when agriculture prospers, all other interests prosper.”
What the USDA Does
Today, the USDA oversees a number of areas like production, research, and education relating to food production and farming. With more than 100,000 employees located all over the world, the USDA creates and provides models for successfully producing a safe, healthy food supply for America and many other countries. Through nutrition education, food assistance programs, and hunger relief efforts, the USDA works to ensure everyone has access to high quality, healthy food. Additional work in setting food safety standards, communicating safe handling information, and providing food inspection services safeguards our food supply.
The establishment of the USDA is part of the reason the U.S. agriculture industry is the envy of the world today. It is a testament to our farmers and the government agency that supports them that even though we have gone from half the population being farmers in 1862 to less than 1% farming today, today’s farmers tend to twice as many acres and provide the citizens of our country with a safe, stable, inexpensive source of food.