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Celebrating 90-Plus Years of USDA’s International Activities

Asher Hobson in Rome, who six years later would become the first head of the Foreign Agricultural Service.

Asher Hobson in Rome, who six years later would become the first head of the Foreign Agricultural Service.

The modern Foreign Service is celebrating its 90th anniversary this year, as is the American Foreign Service Association. In 1924, President Calvin Coolidge signed the Foreign Service Act into law, combining the United States diplomatic and consular services to create the United States Foreign Service. By that time, the U.S. Department of Agriculture had already been posting employees overseas for 42 years.

Thanks to President Coolidge’s curiosity, we possess a rare snapshot of USDA international activities in 1924. On December 22 of that year, Coolidge, in his characteristically laconic style, sent a one-line letter to Secretary of Agriculture Howard Gore: “I shall appreciate it if you will send me as soon as possible a list of the representatives the Department may have abroad, their posts and just what they are doing.”  Surviving copies of urgent correspondence in the National Archives in College Park testify to the flurry of activity that ensued over the next two weeks as a data call went out to all USDA field offices. Read more »

Light Detection and Ranging Helps USDA Pinpoint and Protect Archaeological Mounds

Light Detection and Ranging LiDAR image shows the archaeological mounds in this restored wetland in Illinois. NRCS photo.

Light Detection and Ranging LiDAR image shows the archaeological mounds in this restored wetland in Illinois. NRCS photo.

Sometimes to stop soil erosion, prevent nutrient and sediment runoff and improve habitat, conservation work does disturb the ground. Because of this, USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service relies on its archaeologists on staff to review locations prior to implementing these conservation practices. As the cultural resources specialist for NRCS in Illinois, I’m never quite sure what will turn up in my daily work.

Field investigations by NRCS archaeologists are conducted to look for surface indications of cultural resources, such as historic farm remains, prehistoric artifacts and above-ground structures. I have had opportunities to visit about 2,000 archaeological sites and to record about 400 new sites on private working lands throughout the state. Read more »

With USDA Housing Programs, 3.4 Million Rural Homebuyers Own Their Future

The Riggio family was able to purchase their home in Newville, Pennsylvania, with a loan from USDA Rural Development’s Self-Help Housing Loan Program.

The Riggio family was able to purchase their home in Newville, Pennsylvania, with a loan from USDA Rural Development’s Self-Help Housing Loan Program.

As we celebrate National Homeownership Month this June, I am reminded how USDA delivers positive outcomes ‘Every Day, Every Way’ through the comprehensive programs and services that touch the lives of every American. While many people think of USDA in terms of food, farms and forestry, nearly 3.4 million families over the past 65 years have found the affordable financing they needed to become homeowners through USDA Rural Development.

In 2013 alone, more than 170,000 rural residents became homeowners with the help of Rural Development’s direct loans, guaranteed loans, grants and technical assistance. In both people and dollars, 2013 was the most successful year on record in the history of USDA’s single-family housing programs. Read more »