Beyond the Farm

By Julia Wolf

The farm girl in me got to geek out today just as much as the political science student in me got to today. The class visited the United States Department of Agriculture to talk to Lanon Baccam, a Deputy Under Secretary and 2011 Drake grad today.


Lanon Baccam explained the wide reach of the USDA to Drake students. (Photo credit: Julia Wolf)

Despite growing up on a farm and getting the rundown of various farm publications, I did not know the USDA was involved in as many programs it is. Baccam works with veteran’s affairs within the USDA helping veterans find work in agriculture, since about 40 percent of the men and women in the military are from rural areas. I was aware that many veterans look for work in rural areas after they completed their service, but I didn’t know the USDA was working with that issue specifically.

Allison Thomas, who also works at the USDA, but in the Foreign Agricultural Service, talked about her job working with other countries to market and expand trade the trade of US agriculture products. I found the departments presence in over 150 countries to be astounding. How could they have cast that wide of a net without me knowing about it? When I thought about it a while, I realized many of the articles and TV programs watched in my family did allude to a presence in a number of countries advocating for US agricultural trade.


Allison Thomas described the job description of someone working in the Foreign Agricultural Service, a department many of the students didn’t know about. (Photo credo: Julia Wolf)

I loved getting to hear first-hand what those who work in those agencies do. It made me appreciate the size and scope of our government, and just how intertwined the world is. Huge areas of government focus, from military and conservation to food safety and trade are all handled to a degree just within one organization.

It was interesting to hear how the USDA works with other government agencies that deal with the same issues they do. It made me think about what bureaucratic overreach looks like, and if it is always a bad thing in the situations where it exists. While I came to the conclusion that I can’t understand the how much overreach we have in our agencies without an extensive amount of study, I did decide that there are some upsides to such wide goals that overlap with the missions of other departments. The main one I thought of was the possibility for different perspectives leading to different solutions for a problem. The issue with overlap comes in when two or more agencies solutions contradict each other or simply do not collaborate when that could be more helpful. Multiple agencies addressing an issue could also give the problem more publicity and allow for wider coverage of the issue.

The site visit also opened my eyes up to another opportunity that I can explore. I enjoyed the surprise of learning how involved the USDA is in a number of important issues. It also made me consider how much government work we tend to overlook when we overgeneralize an agency.

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