This group of essays recognizes the sesquicentennial of the United States Department of Agriculture. The USDA was created in 1862, part of a body of legislation that the Union was able to enact once free from the constraints of the southern states. The legislation—the Morrill Land Grant Act, establishing federally supported higher education; the Homestead Act, allowing citizens to claim federal land in the American West; and the Pacific Railway Act, allotting federal land to private companies to capitalize railroad construction—substantially extended the reach of the federal government. Arguably, of all the 1862 legislation, the creation of the USDA has had the greatest impact on the lives of American citizens and on people around the world. With a wide mandate ranging from food stamps to foreign diplomacy, from tourism to grain surpluses, the USDA has both mirrored and influenced the good and bad of American culture. These five idiosyncratic essays address some of the myriad aspects of the USDA, reflecting on its history, writ large; its management of the nation's forests; its race relations; its efforts to conserve America's privately held lands; and its sometimes contradictory global initiatives. Together they comprise a varied set of lenses on this hugely influential bureaucracy.

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