"Few of his contemporaries expected President Richard M. Nixon to break with Cold War politics and open full diplomatic relations the People’s Republic of China in 1972. Because he was playing against type (a moderate Republican reaching out to a staunchly Communist regime), he had credibility that a more liberal leader could not have mustered. The breathtaking move stunned conservatives, as it largely jettisoned ideology for more pragmatic considerations in U.S.-China relations.
We’re on the cusp of a similarly noteworthy shift in the posture of the USDA under its new secretary, Tom Vilsack of Iowa. Initially dismissed by many progressive food and farming activists as a tool of corporate agribusiness, the new leader is making waves several times a day in what is starting to feel like a tsunami of positive change. Consider these items:
On February 5, Vilsack says he wants to expand farmers' choices to include opportunities in energy—such as wind, solar and geothermal power—and in the growing market for organic and whole foods.
On February 21, Vilsack makes his first visit to a farm group outside Washington, addressing 300 farmers and agriculture professionals at the Federation of Southern Cooperatives/Land Assistance Fund’s Georgia Farmer’s Conference. He said he wanted to send a message that the USDA is serious about civil rights issues. He admitted that “some folks refer to USDA as’ the last plantation,’ and it has a pretty poor history of taking care of people of color.”
On February 24, Vilsack announces that Kathleen Merrigan will be his deputy secretary, putting the person who drafted Organic Foods Production Act of 1990 into the Department’s number 2 position.
On February 25, Vilsack is “called out” for skipping the 2009 Commodity Classic in Grapevine, Texas—the annual pow-wow of conventional corn, soybean, sorghum and wheat growers and agri-business powers. The official blog of Hoosier Ag Today radio quoted an American Soybean Association officer as saying of Vilsack: “Even though he is from the state of Iowa, he has a tendency not to lean towards truly production and modern agriculture, and we have to work on that.”
On February 26, Vilsack says cuts to U.S. farm commodity payments will be directed at farmers and ranchers with large incomes and big sales, and could affect 3 percent of U.S. farmers.
Do you feel the earth moving yet? Commodity lobbyists are already swarming Capitol Hill to hogtie their Congressional friends, but the horse of food policy change seems to be out of the barn. However, it will be a long, hard run. If you don’t have a trusted group advocating for organic and sustainable agricultural decisions on your behalf, now is the time to engage one.
In this update, written amidst the background of national changes, we look at:
Why Jeff Moyer, farm director at the Rodale Institute, is willing to work at hammering out a sustainability standard for agriculture with industrial ag leaders, when most organic and community food-security groups are not. Read more >>How a mixture of organic farms in the Northeastern United States looked to a visiting Danish agricultural journalist. Hint: He was impressed with dairy breeding and weed management, but felt that nutrient accounting was quite lax compared to the rules back home. Read more >>
Greg Bowman from the Rodale Institute"