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We Love Kathleen!

by: Jill Richardson

Tue Feb 24, 2009 at 10:45:21 AM PST

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Yesterday brought great news about the upcoming appointment of Kathleen Merrigan as Deputy Secretary of Agriculture. Here's a sampling of what the everyone had to say about her:
Jill Richardson :: We Love Kathleen!
Steph Larson was one of the first to weigh in, saying "This is what democracy looks like."

Today is a big day for all of us who believe not only in sustainable food and agriculture systems, but also in the democratic process. The months since the election brought an outpouring of engagement from citizens urging the Obama Administration to appoint change-makers to lead our country.

And it paid off.

Kathleen Merrigan is headed to Washington.

It is because of you.

Tom Laskawy was also delighted when he heard the news, calling her "the sustainable second in command:"

I guess this whole "activism" thing sometimes works. Tom Vilsack has named Kathleen Merrigan, one of Food Democracy Now's Sustainable Dozen, as Deputy Secretary of Agriculture - the agency's number two position. Merrigan, currently on faculty at Tufts, is the Clinton-era head of the Agricultural Marketing Service, the division in charge of all those fun USDA labels. Not only that but - according to Chews Wise's Samuel Fromartz - as an aide to Sen. Patrick Leahy, Merrigan actually drafted the USDA Organic labeling law. Say what you will about the USDA Organic program, having first written the law and later been in charge of enforcing it, there's no doubt that Merrigan is battle-tested.

Laskawy picks up on a great point - Merrigan's not only experienced at the USDA, but she's worked with the Senate. I have a hunch her understanding of the Senate ag committee and her relationship with powerful Senators like Vermont's Pat Leahy will come in handy in the near future.

Since everyone seems to be looking to Sam Fromartz for his reaction, let's see what he had to say next:

This amounts to a major win for organic, sustainable and local food advocates, since Merrigan is not only well-versed in these issues but has been a tireless advocate for them. Most notably, she wrote the Organic Food Production Act -- the law that governs the entire organic food sector -- as a staffer for Vermont Sen. Leahy back in the 1980s, then worked at USDA and the Wallace Center, before moving to Tufts.  

Then Tom Philpott spoke up over at Grist, saying "Score one for sustainable food:"

President Obama suddenly seems intent on blazing a new path for USDA. Sure, he picked a farm-state governor with ties to the ethanol and biotech industries as USDA chief. But that's almost reflexive in our political system. The key question became: who would he pick as the deputy -- the official who typically gets things done and sets the tone for the department? Would he pick a corn-fed flack, like Bush did? Another go-along to get-along type in the Vilsack mode? Or a real reformer?

Obama chose Kathleen Merrigan, director of the Agriculture, Food and Environment Program at Tufts. From what I can tell at first blush, she's a real reformer.

And a happy post over at Civil Eats:

While our fight is far from finished, we can all breathe a sigh of relief that finally the interests of eaters everywhere will have a voice at the USDA.

Rumors had spread about the possibility of naming Chuck Hassebrook to the position, but the word on the street was that House Ag Chair Collin Peterson blocked the nomination by pitching a fit. Apparently he didn't have anything specific against Merrigan, a surprising yet stupendous alternative choice for deputy.

Amen to that! I'd be glad with Hassebrook but I am no less euphoric with Merrigan as No. 2 at the USDA.

Then there's Obama Foodorama, who remarks on "post racial post gender agriculture:"

The USDA has a looong history, dating back to at least the 1930s, of discriminating against non-white and female populations when deciding who will receive the many benefits of its programs. There have been multiple lawsuits over the years to redress these issues. Having a female Deputy Secretary clearly could help in this area, if only as a visible, initial nod toward change; it could take years to clean up the decades-long mess. Most recently,... the very busy Sec V raised the torpid, bad history of the USDA. And he said that now that he's in charge, The Department is going to make every effort to ensure agency procedures are fair to minorities and women.

Good call. It's nice to have a woman in charge.

Ezra Klein echoes my reaction, saying:

All in all, Merrigan looks like a solid choice. I was skeptical of Vilsack's appointment, but he's doing a damn good job proving me wrong.

And, last but not least, Treehugger says "score one for sustainable agriculture:"

President Obama has announced that he will nominate Kathleen Merrigan to be Deputy Secretary of the USDA. Considering that's she's on the Sustainable Dozen list out forth by the Food Democracy Now campaign this is certainly great news.

They also quote Consumers' Union's Jean Halloran with her statement:

Kathleen Merrigan is an excellent choice for Deputy Secretary of Agriculture. Given her experience and background, we would expect her to be a strong defender of USDA's organic standards, which have been under repeated attack for the last several years.

Merrigan will bring an excellent perspective to a number of troublesome labeling issues now before the agency, including loopholes in the current 'grass fed' standard, lack of uniformity in meat marketing claims across meat, poultry and dairy items, defining 'raised without antibiotics' label claims, and weaknesses in the current definition of 'naturally raised.'

Time for a glass of organic, local, biodynamic wine to celebrate this? I think so!

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We Love Kathleen! | 4 comments
Great news! (4.00 / 3)
I really don't know anything about her, but she sounds like a terrific pick, and anyone affiliated with Leahy gets a thumbs-up from me.

The most remarkable thing about my mother is that for thirty years she served the family nothing but leftovers. The original meal has never been found. -- Calvin Trillin

Check out my other diary on her (4.00 / 3)

But also, I've been emailing with several of her students at Tufts. They love her. She worked w/ Jim Hightower and apparently the MA state legislator she started her career under is pretty incredible too. And she was involved in the start of the National Organic Program.

"I can understand someone from Iowa promoting corn and soy, but we are not feeding the world, we are feeding animals and soft drink companies." - Jim Goodman

[ Parent ]
Thanks for the link, Jill (4.00 / 3)
She really does seem like the perfect choice.

The most remarkable thing about my mother is that for thirty years she served the family nothing but leftovers. The original meal has never been found. -- Calvin Trillin

[ Parent ]
Great News! (4.00 / 2)
Good diaries on her, Jill.  I don't know her, but it sounds like sustainable (organic) farmers will have a strong and knowledgeable advocate in the USDA.  And I gather the Deputy Secretary may almost be more important than the Secretary, though Sec. Vilsack is looking steadily better every day. (Or is it Mrs. Vilsack??)

[ Parent ]
We Love Kathleen! | 4 comments
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