My theory on the strength of the local food movement in the Land of Lincoln goes back to a proud event for all Illinoisans, which happened on May 15, 1862, when Abraham Lincoln signed into law an act of Congress establishing “at the seat of Government of the United States Department of Agriculture.”
A couple of years later at what would be his last speech to congress (due to his unexpected assassination); President Lincoln proudly stated “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.”
The energetic and faithful head was a Delaware farmer named Isaac Newton (no relation). In his first annual report he listed his department’s objectives as the following:
- Collecting, arranging and publishing statistical and other useful agricultural information. (He championed a nationwide system of daily weather reports for farmers, which led to the establishment of the U.S. Weather Service)
- Introducing valuable plants and animals
- Answering inquiries of farmers regarding agriculture
- Testing agricultural implements (Newton set up an experimental farm on what is now the National Mall in the location of today’s USDA headquarters)
- Conducting chemical analyses of soils, grains, fruits, plants, vegetables and manures
- Establishing a professorship of botany and entomology
- Establishing an agricultural library and museum
The USDA was created to protect and advance farming because farms were vital to feed a growing nation. It is our right and privilege to grow food for ourselves and others. So if you have a farm or a few containers, get some soil and your favorites plants and GROW! Create a Sustainable Illinois!
FYI-National Agriculture and Hall of Fame www.aghalloffame.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/05/Hall-of-Fame-Inductees-2015.pdf
Abraham Lincoln and Isaac Newton both inducted on October 23, 1998.