On May 15, 1862, President Abraham Lincoln signed legislation to establish the United States Department of Agriculture (ASDA). At that time, about half of all Americans lived on farms, compared with about 2 percent today. On Feb. 9, 1889, President Grover Cleveland signed a bill into law that elevated the Department of Agriculture from a commissioner-led organization to a Cabinet level department.

The USDA mission statement is that it "provides leadership on food, agriculture, natural resources, rural development, nutrition, and related issues based on sound public policy, the best available science, and efficient management." USDA has also crafted a vision statement and strategic plan framework. Within the USDA's seven mission areas named below, there are currently 17 agencies and 17 offices, each of which has a specific function.

Farm and Foreign Agricultural Services work with farmers to guard against uncertainties of weather and markets and to improve stability or the agricultural economy, deliver commodity, credit, conservation, disaster, and emergency assistance programs.

Food, Nutrition and Consumer Services work to end hunger and improve health in the United States, administer federal domestic nutrition assistance programs and link scientific research to the nutrition needs of consumers through science-based dietary guidance, nutrition policy coordination and nutrition education.

Food Safety ensures the U.S. commercial supply of meat, poultry, and egg products is safe, and is properly labeled and packaged. Food Safety Inspection Service (FSIS) plays a key role in the President's Council on Food Safety and in coordinating a national food safety strategic plan among various partner agencies, including Food and Drug Administration and Environmental Protection Agency.

Marketing and Regulatory Programs facilitate domestic and international marketing of U.S. agricultural products and ensure the health and care of animals and plants and are active participants in setting national and international standards.

Natural Resources and Environment ensures land health through sustainable management, works to prevent damage to natural resources and the environment, restores the resource base, and promotes good land management.

Research, Education and Economics mission area provides integrated research, analysis, and education with a goal of creating strong communities, families, and youth as well as a safe, sustainable, competitive U.S. food and fiber system.

Rural Development (RD) provides financial programs to support essential public facilities and services in rural American: water and sewer systems, housing, health clinics, emergency service facilities, and electric and telephone services. RD also promotes economic development by providing loans to businesses through banks and community-managed lending pools and by helping communities participate in community empowerment programs.

The public is invited to "How Does Government Policy on Agriculture and Food Affect Me?" public forum tonight at 7 p.m. in the 4H Building of the Montgomery County Fairgrounds. Otto C. Doering II, professor and public policy special in the Agricultural Economics Department at Purdue University will be presenting an overview of the history of the agricultural policy and what it all means to our economy and to our food and agricultural production system.

The forum is co-sponsored by the League of Women Voters of Montgomery County and the Montgomery County Purdue Extension.

The League of Women Voters, a nonpartisan, multi-issue political organization, encourages informed and active participation in government, works to increase public understanding of major policy issues and influences public policy through education and advocacy. All men and women are invited to join LWV where hands-on work to safeguard democracy leads to civic improvement. For information about the League, visit the website: www.lwvmontco.org, or send a message to lwvmontco@gmail.org or PO Box 101, Crawfordsville, IN 47933