Posted by: beyonddinner | December 17, 2008

Department of Agriculture pick

I confess to feeling great disappointment this morning when I read about Obama’s pick of former Iowa governor Tom Vilsack for the Secretary of Agriculture. From the initial news stories I read it sounded like he’s a died-in-the-wool corn guy which translated quickly into my mind as being in the pocket of agribusiness, which to me is a very, very, very bad thing. These initial impressions are based on pretty much zero real knowledge and are reinforced by blog postings like this. What I really wanted is Michael Pollan’s Farmer in Chief.

To be a responsible citizen though, I need to learn more, so I started doing what anyone would do – I googled :-). Through various links I found this essay he wrote in October.

In the essay he touts his record of changing farm fields to energy fields (e.g. ethanol and biofuels). This is worrisome because we know making ethanol out of corn is terribly inefficient. And, in order to grow that corn, modern industrial practices call for horrible degradation of our land and continued subsidies and support for big agribusiness for doing so. He mentions in that paragraph though including wind farms in those energy fields. This is something I’m in favor of. So there’s a lot of despair and a little bit of hope in those few sentences.

Later he says:

We must go beyond drilling and the destructive energy extraction of the past to apply the latest technologies in conservation and sustainable management.

still later he says:

We must work to protect our family farms and encourage the American tradition of local farming and food production.

and this:

By investing in our family farms, we can attract a new generation of cultivators of the earth and stewards of the land. We have the technology and know-how to shift our agricultural practices toward sustainable production and a focus on food security that will help see this country through tough times.

I also read somewhere else (that I need to confirm) that he is in favor of overhauling farm subsidies in order to put money into farm conservation.

These bits give me hope and prompt me to keep listening and not let my optimism falter and become too reactionary.

So many people are expecting Obama to start out of the gate making great sweeping changes, but I think that’s incredibly unrealistic. The man has to work within the system that exists and I see Obama as a very pragmatic person who could possibly do that. One thing he has in his back pocket is a giant mobilized group of people who were personally moved to go out and take a lot of action including donating from their own pockets to get him elected. If he can work within the system while urging the rest of us to move public opinion – maybe there is still a shot to make some fundamental changes to food policy.

All the more reason to put myself out there and be active on the issues.

On an related note, Tom Vilsack is on Facebook and is a friend of my co-worker Jeremiah! Who knows what could happen through the phenomenon that is Facebook!

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