Reuters reported yesterday that President Obama named Kathleen Merrigan as the deputy secretary of agriculture. Merrigan is an assistant professor at Tufts University with a career-long history of supporting sustainable and organic agriculture.

Here are a few of Merrigan’s credentials.
  • Currently, she heads the Agriculture, Food and Environment Program at Tufts School of Nutrition and Policy
  • She helped develop and write the laws surrounding the labeling of U.S. organic food
  • From 1987-92, she worked on the U.S. Senate Agriculture Committee
  • From 1994-99, she worked at the Wallace Institute for Alternative Agriculture
  • She’s been a consultant for the U.N. Food Agriculture Organization
It seems that in every step of her career, Merrigan has been focused on sustainable agriculture, and many people are excited about her appointment.
"Sustainable and organic farmers are excited ... that someone who has been associated with these issues her whole career is going to be at that level in the department," said Ferd Hoefner of the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition.
I think the excitement also has to do with the fact that many people have been skeptical about how supportive her boss-to-be, Agriculture Secretary Tom Villsack, will be of sustainable and organic agriculture.

Just today I read a recent interview with Michael Pollan, author of "The Omnivore’s Dilemma" and a very vocal sustainable food supporter, on the Mother Jones website. He had this to say about Vilsack.

"There's reason to be very concerned. He oversaw a tremendous expansion of feedlot agriculture and confinement hog production, ruining the Iowa countryside, ruining the lives of many farmers. He helped gut local control over the siting decisions. He has also been very friendly toward Monsanto and genetically modified products and was named governor of the year by bio, the big biotech trade organization. But people I respect say that he will listen to food activists and is interested in helping Iowa to feed itself. It's a food desert, weirdly enough. All the raw material leaves the state and comes back in processed form. Putting the most positive spin I can on it: He's no longer governor of Iowa, and I'm hoping that as a politician, when he senses where the wind is moving, he'll move with it."
Perhaps Vilsack has listened to food activists and gotten himself a No. 2 who will help guide him in organic and sustainable matters.

This, my friends, is good news.


Robin Shreeves ( @rshreeves ) focuses on food from a family perspective from her home base in New Jersey.

Obama excites sustainable and organic farmers
President Obama has nominated Kathleen Merrigan to the No. 2 post at the USDA. Why are some excited about her?