Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Grade AA

Nobody was less happy about Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack than me. The best-case scenario I could spin at the time is that Vilsack is the skilled and connect administrator that could get shit done, and he'd surround himself with the right people.

He is.

Vilsack announced his choice for Deputy at the Department of Agriculture—Tufts professor and organic activist Kathleen Merrigan.
[...] as a senate staffer for Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont, Merrigan had drafted the organic law. She then went on to work at the USDA's agricultural marketing service (AMS), which runs the organic program. Even before then, she was involved in sustainable agriculture policy and has been ever since -- in organics, conservation, food access, and small farm issues.

[...] Outside government, she has worked for the Henry A. Wallace Institute for Alternative Agriculture, served on a the Pew commission on biotechnology and has been active in the National Campaign for Sustainable Agriculture. She now heads the Agriculture, Food and Environment Program at Tufts School of Nutrition and Policy. As marketing and regulatory undersecretary, she would oversee AMS, GIPSA (Grain Inspection Packers and Stockyards Administration), and APHIS (Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service) - touching virtually every aspect of agriculture.

In short, this is a real shot for a major position at the USDA by someone who has pursued the change mantra in agriculture for nearly two decades.

Here's an even better endorsement:
Merrigan is a right-wing nightmare come true, an unreconstructed liberal activist in charge of a billion-dollar bureaucracy. In her last job, at the Henry A. Wallace Institute for Alternative Agriculture, she helped organize a massive grass-roots campaign to scuttle the U.S. Department of Agriculture's modest proposed standards for organic food. In her new job, running the USDA's Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS), she's rewriting that very proposal.

All of that is awesome to read...especially when you try to imagine the same post being filled in the Bush (or even McCain) Administration—would that candidate be an executive from Cargill, Ortho or Monsanto...?

[h/t Ezra]


Smitty said...

This is an impressive pick.

From reading your wife's blog, I see that the organic and sustainable "movements", if you will, are a pretty important part of your family's outlook and cooking habits. Must be an especially promising pick, given that light.

We have several Ag-based clients (farming groups) in our firm, as well as the Food Bank Council of Michigan. My colleague, a former dairy farmer herself, has those clients, and was excited about what this would mean for attention to Agriculture in Michigan.

Mr Furious said...

Oh, it's more than just the organic factor—which is certinly good—it's a signal that somebody other than Big Agriculture has a seat at the table. Imagine a USDA actually concerned about the people who eat the food?

This is HUGE for small farmers too. Too often policies left them (deliberately) to wither on the vine so they could be bought out on the cheap.

Obviously expectations need to be kept realistic, but much like Obama's installing actual scientists at Energy and other scientific posts, this shit makes me almost giddy. It wasn't just chu at DoE, it was all the excellent, cutting-edge people that accompanied him—it's at this deputy-level that stuff actually gets done.

After the last month of cabinet fiascoes, this is refreshing.