How about a Secretary of Sustainable Agriculture?

December 12, 2008 at 9:46 am Leave a comment

Things are moving quickly with the Obama transition team, which has already broken all speed records for Cabinet nominations. But one of the most important posts, Secretary of Agriculture, still remains open and grassroots sustainable farm advocates nationwide are lobbying the president-elect for change we can believe in at the top of the Ag bureaucracy. All we want for Christmas is a Sustainable Farmer-in-Chief.

Thoughtful critics, like New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof, have called for re-naming the post Secretary of Food:  “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…100 percent of Americans eat….. Renaming the department would signal that Mr. Obama seeks to move away from a bankrupt structure of factory farming that squanders energy, exacerbates climate change and makes Americans unhealthy–all while costing taxpayers billions of dollars….But let’s be clear, the problem isn’t farmers. It’s the farm lobby–hijacked by industrial operators–and a bipartisan tradition of kowtowing to it.”

You can weigh in on this in a couple of ways: Sign the online petition asking Obama for real change by considering a slate of excellent options for Ag Secretary. And then you can go the Obama Transition site and share your comments there about what you personally think a Sustainable Secretary ought to do to give us a sustainable food economy. For starters, how about a locavore chef for the White House, a sustainble farm plot on the South lawn, and some tax incentives for small farmers that might help them compete with the federally subsidized corporate food giants who are ruining our soil and our health with toxic petro-chemical-based pesticides and fattening food additives?

If you need some ideas, check out the “leafy green blog” Grist for what sustainable food advocate/author Michael Pollan and others are suggesting to the Obama administration. One important goal is to have someone overseeing food policy, not just mega-farm policy. If Obama can’t reform the massive Department of Agriculture overnight, then maybe he should create a separate White House post, for the new real-food guru-in-chief: “I would urge the new president to appoint a Food Policy Czar in the White House,” says Pollan. “Why? Because, as I’ve written recently (see “Farmer-in-Chief“), progress on the all-important issues of energy independence, climate change, and health care costs depends on reform of the food system–and, crucially, an ability to connect all those dots when making policy. The challenge is to align the goals of federal agricultural policy with the goals of public health, energy, and environmental policy (for the first time), and no one cabinet department has an interest in making those connections.”

“Even if you don’t think agriculture is a high priority given all the other problems we face,” Pollan told Kristof in The Times, “we’re not going to make progress on the issues Obama campaigned on–healthcare, climate change and energy independence–unless we reform agriculture.” 

Speaking of Pollan, who some say ought to be our first Food Czar (he’s already said he’s not interested in Ag Secretary), check out his indepth analysis of what’s wrong with current food policy and his recommendations for change, in the Oct. 9 New York Times magazine.

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Building a local food economy, what are the barriers? Locavore Christmas

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