USDA Turns 150

Published in the January 2012 Issue Published online: Jan 17, 2012 Tyler J. Baum
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Abraham Lincoln wasn't just the president who freed the slaves and kept our nation from dividing, although those were obviously his greatest accomplishments. (And it's tragic that it appears none of the current presidential candidates out there have even some of the leadership traits Pres. Lincoln did.)

One thing Pres. Lincoln is lesser-known for is, establishing the United States Department of Agriculture.[One thing for which Pres. Lincoln is less known is the establishment of the U. S. Department of Agriculture.]

In 2012, USDA will commemorate and celebrate the 150th anniversary of its founding in 1862-during the Civil War. On May 15, 1862, Pres. Lincoln signed into law an act of Congress establishing "at the seat of Government of the United States a Department of Agriculture."

Two-and-a-half years later, in what was to be his final annual message to the Congress, Lincoln said, "The Agricultural Department, under the supervision of its present energetic and faithful head, is rapidly commending itself to the great and vital interest it was created to advance. It is precisely the people's Department, in which they feel more directly concerned that in any other. I commend it to the continued attention and fostering care of Congress."

At that time, about half of all Americans lived on farms, compared with about 2 percent today.

USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack said in a letter recently, commemorating the USDA's sesquicentennial, "Through our work on food, agriculture, economic development, science, natural resource conservation and a host of issues, USDA still fulfills Lincoln's vision-touching the lives of every American, every day.

"As we commemorate 150 years of accomplishments, USDA is learning from past experiences and looking to the future. In the years to come, we must help address the changing needs of agriculture and rural America. We must continue to help provide a safe, ample food supply for our nation and the world. To meet those goals, we are working to make USDA a more modern and effective service provider and to deliver the best possible results for all of the American people.

Over the course of the year, I hope that Americans will acknowledge and join in our commemoration of 150 years of USDA. It is a great time to learn about our contributions to the strength and health of this nation, and to see how we can continue to partner with Americans working to provide a better life for their families.

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