Blog | December 11, 2008

Jen Updates Us on the Search for the Next Secretary of Agriculture

Whew, what a busy time of year it is. We’ve been a bit quiet on the blog as of late and for that I apologize. We’ve been in the thick of grant season–examining the hundreds of grant proposals we’ve received (totaling more than $2 million in requests!) to figure out where Farm Aid funds can best be put to work. But more on that later. In the meantime, the food and farm world is still buzzing about who President-elect Obama might choose as his Secretary of Agriculture. And while we’ve been part of those discussions we haven’t had the chance to blog about them. So, let’s get caught up, shall we?

Since Nov 5th, folks in the food and farm world have been talking about who might be a good choice for the Obama administration’s Secretary of Agriculture. The Secretary of Agriculture is the head of the US Department of Agriculture, which manages alot more than farms, including our nation’s forests and conservation, rural development, food safety, and nutrition programs like food stamps and the school lunch program. While Obama has named many of his key cabinet members, he has not yet named his Secretary of Agriculture, a position that many people are very interested in. The scope of this job means that it affects not just farmers but activists working on all kinds of issues, from the environment, the economy, public health, and more–not to mention all of us, since we all eat!

The Washington Post recently put together biographies of those considered to be on the “short list” of candidates, including Kathleen Sebelius, Governor of Kansas, Charles Stenholm, a lobbyist and policy advisor at an agriculture law firm, and Dennis Wolff, Pennsylvania Secretary of Agriculture. It is notable that this particular short list is completely different from the short list of just a few weeks ago.

Many additional names have been suggested for the post, including our own Willie Nelson and Michael Pollan, who has spilled a lot of ink in order to influence the general public and the President-elect on the importance of our food and how it is produced. A recent petition has been collecting many signers who seek a sustainable choice who has “a significant grassroots background in promoting sustainable agriculture to create a prosperous future for rural America and a healthy future for all of America’s citizens.”

Of course, many a rational voice with political experience has cautioned that this a political appointment, which typically is not influenced by public opinion and usually goes to a high-level political figure. But as you can see that hasn’t stopped anyone from voicing their opinion. I think that’s in part due to the passion that folks have for good food and farms and also because of the historic step the Obama-Biden administration has taken in truly inviting citizens into the decision-making process. Their latest invitation asks us to submit questions about what they’re going to do in the White House. You can submit your own question and vote for the questions that you’d most like to see answered. Farm Aid encourages everyone to get involved–sign petitions, ask questions, voice your concern. Whether or not we’re guaranteed an answer, it’s our duty to ask!

In his column yesterday, Nicholas Kristof suggests that the Secretary of Agriculture be renamed the Secretary of Food because, as he explains, “A Department of Agriculture made sense 100 years ago when 35 percent of Americans engaged in farming. But today, fewer than 2 percent are farmers. In contrast, 100 percent of Americans eat.” While this is true, I think that more and more people are interested in becoming farmers and we need a Secretary of Agriculture (or Food, or some combination thereof) who is dedicated to helping those people become farmers. A Department of Food overlooks the fact that we need farmers to bring us food!

With so many demanding a Secretary of Agriculture who represents the interests of family farmers and us eaters over the interests of the factory farms that have been rewarded by previous Secretaries of Agriculture, Farm Aid is hopeful that Obama will make a good choice. We’ll continue to keep our ears open and let you know what we’re hearing.

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