The NY Times today devotes one of their editorials to the topic of “Fixing Agriculture.” The editorial illuminates the centrist farm policy positions of Tom Vilsack and enumerates the challenges he’ll face as chief administrator of “this country’s broken agricultural policy,” including fixing a system that “has long favored the largest farms,” working on the issue of farm subsidies, and determining the true value (if there is one) of ethanol. While the editorial doesn’t say anything that farm and food leaders have not already said themselves, the existence of this piece itself is something to consider.
I haven’t conducted an official survey, but it seems to me that the position of Secretary of Agriculture has generated more dialogue in the general population than any other cabinet appointment. Various petitions about the selection gathered nearly 100,000 signatures, concerned eaters sent thousands of emails to Obama, and folks came together across movements, recognizing the effect of food production on so many aspects of our lives.
Not too long ago, it was a new and daunting job just get people to think about where their food comes from. Since then, we’ve seen the growth of farmers markets, an explosion of Community Supported Agriculture (CSAs), and a wave of new farmers getting on the land. Regardless of how anyone in the diverse world of farming and food feels about the nomination of Vilsack, it is heartening and important to acknowledge the incredible progress that’s been made. It represents more than 20 years of work but also the recognition that farmers are too important to lose. Family farmers are key to the health of our economy, our environment, our selves. For sure, this work has truly only just begun and we cannot rest in our pursuit of a sustainable system of family farm agriculture! In terms of changing farm policy, we have a long, hard road ahead of us. And family farmers themselves will never have an easy job — farming as an occupation is wrought with obstacles and risk. But it is invigorating to look for just a moment at what has been accomplished and imagine what this momentum will continue to accomplish into the future.