This morning the USDA announced that it is closing 259 offices throughout the nation, including 5 of 15 Food Safety Inspection Service offices.  I understand that some of the services that the United States Dept. of Agriculture has offered for years can now be taken care of by computer – IF the farmer or the consumers have access to computers.  Many of the offices identified for closure in the Midwest, where high speed Internet connectivity is hard to find. If you have Skype or other software that allows telecommunication, then bringing a camera to the barn isn’t a problem, or to the field, for a consultation. But how do you do that if the closest Cooperative Extension office is 10 hours away? That’s entirely possible in many of these states.

The USDA overseas the Food Stamps Program and WIC.  How can they serve the people who need them if they also don’t have a computer and the office is swamped with thousands of applications and questions, and only has a handful of staff? 

One of the offices that is slated for closure is in Lawrence, KS. It is a Food Safety Inspection Service, which overseas inspections of meat, eggs and dairy operation. Kansas is also the proposed home of the new “Bio-Security Lab,” that currently exists on an island in NY, (Plum Island,) but is slated for closure, moving the dangerous disease testing lab from a safer area surrounded by water and urban areas, and putting in the middle of “cattle land.” How can they make sure that Foot and Mouth, which is one of the diseases in the lab which is extremely dangerous to livestock, is safely contained if they put it in middle of animal rich sites with less inspection and enforcement?  How does that make sense?

The USDA was created in 1862 by President Abraham Lincoln because the people demanded that they have assistance in building a stronger food system. He referred to it as “The People’s Department.” The USDA was once the home of the helpful “Extension Agent,” who knew the farmer’s in his region and was welcome to the house for consultations, advice or just a quick chat.  The USDA created the 4H because it recognized that youth needed guidance in learning the “new techniques” involved in agriculture and nurtured millions of young people through farm based experiences that lead to careers in agriculture, food, home care and other livelihoods.

As our population grows we are becoming increasingly cut off from our food systems. People have become to rely on the USDA to secure their food supply, so much so that they didn’t learn what they needed themselves.  Now we are looking at less access to guidance, a more needy population and an epidemic of food-related issues from food safety to obesity.  We need to build in safety nets, such as North Country Sustainability Center, and others, to fill in the gaps in education and empowerment.

I realize that the government needs to cut its budget, but some choices are easier to understand than others. This one doesn’t make much sense to me, but NCSC will be there to help with the issues it leaves behind. Please help us make that happen faster! Thanks,