Celebrate USDA Heritage, Land-Grant Legacy

By Cathann A. Kress, Vice President for Iowa State University Extension and Outreach

Transformations in agriculture and education are risky, but they provide the opportunity for unprecedented innovation. Abraham Lincoln understood this 150 years ago when he signed legislation to create the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Our nation was at war on May 15, 1862, but Congress and our President recognized the need to transform American agriculture. Barely two months later on July 2, they pointed American education in a new direction when the Morrill Act became law, establishing the land-grant university system.

President Lincoln asked our nation to “think anew, and act anew” to solve the monumental challenges of the era. Thanks to that new way of thinking, the connections and partnerships that have flourished because of USDA and land-grant institutions like Iowa State University continue to have far-reaching impacts on quality of life.

From June 27 through July 1 and July 4-8, the Smithsonian Folklife Festival in Washington, D.C., will celebrate USDA’s heritage as well as the land-grant university legacy. Demonstrations, discussions and hands-on activities — including an exhibit from Iowa State — will show how we provide access to education and put research into action for agriculture and food, health care, sustainable living, and urban and rural revitalization.

Iowa was the first state to officially endorse the Morrill Act, and we’re proud to be part of this national celebration. We will bring Iowa State’s exhibit back home to Iowa for viewing later this summer.

These types of milestones encourage us to look reverently upon our history. But is what we revere still relevant? Yes — because it makes a difference today. USDA continues to partner with land-grant universities, finding innovative approaches to solve today’s issues and anticipate tomorrow’s challenges.

Iowa State’s Smithsonian exhibit shows how the College of Design and ISU Extension and Outreach apply creative problem solving to find innovative solutions to communities’ complex challenges. The exhibit also demonstrates how USDA contributes to the partnership. Consider the People’s Garden School Pilot Program and the Midwest Grape and Wine Industry Institute.

In partnership with USDA, ISU Extension and Outreach and extension services in three other states are developing and running a pilot gardening program with schools. The People’s Garden School Pilot Program establishes community and school gardens that bring neighborhoods together for a common cause. Thousands of students in elementary schools in urban, suburban and rural communities are learning about nutrition as they also plant and tend gardens. With soil on their hands, they may be inspired to find solutions to challenges facing our country — from hunger and obesity to the environment.

Although Iowa is relatively new to wine making, the state is home to 101 licensed wineries and more than 300 vineyards. Successful wineries and vineyards have the potential to add to the state’s economic growth. The Midwest Grape and Wine Industry Institute was established at Iowa State to offer a full-range of services and resources to new and established grape growers and wine makers.

The institute conducts research on grape varieties that can grow in Iowa, as well as on the best processes to make wine from those varieties. It also trains extension specialists to offer outreach, and partners with community colleges to develop job training. With a recently awarded USDA grant, the institute is working to help colder-weather states like Iowa overcome obstacles in the vineyard, winery and tasting room and also improve tourism.

In Iowa and throughout the United States, USDA and land-grant institutions continue to transform and innovate. We’re educating our people and putting research into action — proving that Lincoln’s charge to “think anew, and act anew” still makes sense today.

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design in action