This week, as USDA celebrates its official 150th birthday (which is May 15 by the way), Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack went virtual. He made himself available on Twitter to answer questions of the public and interested social media followers and he didn't shy from critics either.
Of course the first tweet was the Presidential Proclamation celebrating the anniversary, which was issued Monday as well.
The challenge of Twitter is that comments are limited to 140 characters each, we've excerpted the stream to show you the questions and answers. in this exchange TJV is Vilsack:
Good afternoon all! The 150th anniv allows us to reflect, acknowledge & challenge. Reflect on how far this dept has come..^TJV #askUSDA
(con't) When you consider less than 15 of US population produces enough to feed the nation & world, it certainly ratifies...TJV
..Lincoln's understanding of the Department of Agriculture. - TJV
What would Lincoln think today?He'd be pleased at #conservation efforts, surprised at incredible research, thankful 4 nutrition efrts - TJV
Q1 Tom Brand, @NAFB: 150 yrs ago, most of US pop had direct connection to #ag. How much more impt is USDA to the US/world pop today #askUSDA
A1: We're an every way, every day USDA. Ag would't be as productive, food would't be as safe, land&water wouldnt be as protected w/o us- TJV
Q2 EllenCThompason Lack of secondary #agedu programs for students to enroll in & learn about #ag, leadership, & civic engagement. #askUSDA
I share that concern, which is why we're working w/ @edGov, FFA & @4H to make sure schools understand imptce of Ag education - TJV
Q3 @jody_donohue How does USDA balance science vs. consumer emotion (i.e. why not more testing for #bse other food born illness? #askUSDA
A3: The amt of testing is based on intl standards, surveillance w/ feed ban & prohibiting SRMs in food supply provide solid guarantees - TJV
Q4 @anhusa - #askUSDA Monsanto created superweeds cover 12M acres farmland, will USDA cont to deregulate GMO crops given evidence of harm?
A4: Your beef is not with us, it's with Congress. The Plant Pest Protection Act narrowly defines what we can and cannot approve. -TJV
Q5 from Facebook: How can we restore healthy nutrient dense food diet prior to regulation that led to obesity pandemic?
A5 Meaningful improvements to #schoollunch, 1st time 30yrs will help US children reverse trend. More fruits, vegs,whole grain,lowft dairy -TJV
A5: @FeedTheFuture effort will help other nations become more productive. Looking fwd to the G8 announcement this weekend. -TJV
Q6: RT @nrcs_nc: @USDA: Looking forward to another 150 years. What is your vision for meeting our global agricultural objectives #askUSDA
Q7: RT @forumfood: How does/can @USDA engage with big biz & smaller community efforts to create more sustainable food system? #askUSDA
A7: #KYF2 promotes local & reg food systems & is promoting innovative entrepreneurs. Look for announcement tmrw in Detroit @WholeFoods TJV
Q8: @TexansVsHunger: #askUSDA USDA has tradition of providing nutrition to low-income families. How would proposed budget cuts affect?
A8: House budget would negatively impact 100s of 1000s. Hopeful for compromise that maintains solid safety net. Esp working fams using SNAP
Q9: @annemarie_nj: #askUSDA #USDA150 Please comment on the future of dairy farming here in the USA.
A9: New Food Farm & Jobs Bill could offer less volatile markets and more stability for dairy producers. - TJV #askUSDA
Q10: RT @agropinion: Are there any @USDA programs that are currently under-utilized by the farming community? #askUSDA
A10: Our problem is over subscription. 1 place that req's more support is ag research. - TJV See @ScienceAtUSDA
Q12: RT @joeschroeder: What will be done to address evidence of anti-trust from your recent hearings on competition and concentration in ag?
A12: Dairy provisions of the new Food Farm & Jobs Bill. New GIPSA regs on poultry. Seed association working on patent issues. (1/2) - TJV
A12 con't: Congress prevented further action on GIPSA rules. - TJV
Q13: RT @obamafoodorama: Since 47% of SNAP recipients are kids & 1/3 overweight/obese, why is junkfood approved for SNAP purchase? #askUSDA
A13: Harder than you might think - working on incentives for healthy foods 2yr project in Mass. will tell us if incentives work. - TJV
Q14: What was your first experience with agriculture or USDA? #askUSDA
A14: Doing tax returns and understanding how hard it was to make a living as a farmer - TJV #askUSDA
Q15 RT @grupo_pm: US has come far on AGTrade w MX, but not for potatoes, essential prod, can't be exported. When this will be solved?
A15: Issues submitted to an independent panel. Working daily to get Mexico to agree to panel's determination. -TJV #askUSDA
Looking fwd to Joe & Mika @MorningJoe, Chuck Leavall of Rolling Stones & NFL greats Art Monk, LaVar Arrington will join us tmrw for #USDA150
Q16 RT @nutritionkids: Why doesn't USDA do more to support farmers that grow fruits, veggies, nuts & other #healthy foods? #askUSDA
A16: Some support more evident than others. Purchase fruits & vegs to help schools, food banks, others meet their needs. (1/2) -TJV #askUSDA
A16 2/2: Making SNAP available at #farmersmarkets also a support. - TJV #askUSDA
Q17 RT @forumfood: Building on A14, how does @USDA incentivize farming, esp for small and/or young farmers and their workers? #askUSDA
A17: See beginning farmer and rancher program and #KYF2 Compass for details. http://ow.ly/aTXxB - TJV
Q18 RT @agchick: Sec TJV: Pres. Abraham Lincoln established USDA & the cabinet position. Does USDA envision another #USDA150 yet to come?
A18: Won't be around to celebrate...- TJV #askUSDA #USDA150
Q19 RT @nutritionkids: I grew up on midwest farm (corn, beans). Now live in PNW where produce farmers can't make living. Why? #askUSDA
A19: Surprising, since many of the new operations are in local & regional food producers with a heavy emphasis on fruits & vegetables. - TJV
A19 (con't): Look for study to publish Wednesday that might help. - TJV #askUSDA
Q20 RT @ediblearia: @USDA The weight of the nation rests on your shoulders, yet you do.. nothing but maintain status quo. #askUSDA
A20: Beg to differ. @MyPlate, new dietary guidelines, new #schoollunch menus, participating with @LetsMove, encouraging SNAP (cont) - TJV
A20 (con't): WIC at #farmersmarkets. Promoting new WIC package. $ spent on obesity research. Apps for Healthy Kids. Supertracker update- TJV
Will continue celebration of #USDA150 tmrw & remainder of year. Lincoln would be proud of what he started. - TJV #askUSDA