By Jon Lueth
Did you have a burger today? You’re welcome from the USDA. That Easy Mac you just made (ok, I just made), you’re welcome from the USDA. Those grapes you ate for lunch? You guessed it, you’re welcome again from the USDA. Take a shower today? You’re welcome from the USDA…wait what?! Don’t worry, you read that correctly, and no it wasn’t a typo on my part. As strange as it may sound, it’s completely true! The USDA does so much more than just slap stickers on your packaged meats, and fruits and vegetables. How do you I know you ask? Well let me tell you…
As you may have guessed, we had the wonderful opportunity to have a site visit at the United States Department of Agriculture. While there we met with the Deputy Under
Secretary of Farm and Foreign Services (and Drake Alum) named Lanon Baccam. He began the site visit by simply explaining his title and job description. He explained that there is the Secretary of Agriculture (currently Tom Vilsack), then the Deputy Secretary of Agriculture, followed by several Under Secretaries of a variety of agencies, and then positions like his, comprised of Deputy Under Secretaries of these various agencies. He then asked us what it was we knew about the USDA and what the department did, and like most of you, we shot off a couple of quick facts about their food labeling and grading.
All of our answers were right, but we were far from being totally correct. Lanon then explained the myriad of other task that the USDA performs. Everything from assisting military veterans with small loans to get them into farming and ranching both as a means of expanding those industries, but also as a means of getting those veterans jobs and a home, to assisting foreign countries in setting up their own agricultural infrastructure. How does this relate to the shower comment in the beginning though? Well, it’s simply really, Lanon told us of a program where the USDA carefully treats and filters water from farms as a means of ensuring the runoff does not contaminate the bigger bodies of water. This water that they are treating is then used as a basin that is pulled from to send all of the water into New York City. Thus, had the USDA not been doing its job, the water for a shower in the morning (or evening or whenever) likely wouldn’t be properly treated or usable. So again, you’re welcome from the USDA.
Another fact about the USDA is that they are one of the only departments outside of the Department of State that host a foreign services branch where they work with other countries (approximately 170 of them) in a variety of ways.
In short, if only labels were everywhere, people would be shocked at just how much the USDA affects them.
So what does all of this mean and what matters about it? Simply put, it means a lot. It means that, as Lanon said, there has been a struggle to inform people of the vast portfolio of work that the USDA provides, which in turn means people won’t fully understand how their decisions (particularly of the budgeting variety) are actually affecting everyday citizens around the world. So many people view the USDA as just dealing with basic farming, but there is so much more to it. We as citizens need to become better informed of this, and hold a vigilant and watchful eye on the Federal Government to ensure they are not undercutting crucial programs (inadvertently or otherwise) that could literally alter people’s way of life. In short, if only labels were everywhere, people would be shocked at just how much the USDA affects them.