Posted by: beyonddinner | February 20, 2009

Up with community gardens and other USDA tidbits

There’s been some nice boosts for community gardens out of the USDA lately.  Secretary Tom Vilsack broke ground on a new community garden to be established at the USDA headquarters this week as detailed in this press release.  Indeed, they are going to have community gardens at all USDA properties and they are trying to reduce impermeable (paved) surfaces in doing so.

Michelle Obama recently spoke at the USDA, mentioning the community gardens and gave a gift to get started – a magnolia tree seedling from the Jackson magnolia tree at the White House.

In other news, foodbubbles shares that Vilsack intends to address the problem of direct payments to farmers according to today’s policies (e.g. subsidized corn).   Way cool!

Lastly, the amount and diversity of farms is increasing in the United States according to the 2007 Census of Agriculture:

The 2007 Census counted 2,204,792 farms in the United States, a net increase of 75,810 farms. Nearly 300,000 new farms have begun operation since the last census in 2002. Compared to all farms nationwide, these new farms tend to have more diversified production, fewer acres, lower sales and younger operators who also work off-farm.

While it’s too bad that the new farms often require off-farm work, I do find it encouraging that there is an increase in organic, value-added, and specialty products – creating more diversity in the marketplace.



  1. So, are we still in the stage of “cautious optimism” or can we really believe that change is coming? I’d hate to get my expectations up so much (and this news is increasing them dramatically) only to be let down so much.

    • I’m going to keep being cautiously optimistic and keep watching what they do and say. I still occasionally see items that mention Vilsack’s and the USDA’s past that make me still a little suspicious. It will wear off as more news like the latest round comes through.

  2. Tracy,

    More good news from the USDA, the nomination of Kathleen A. Merrigan to be Deputy Secretary of Agriculture. She has been a leader in the organic foods movement, and has a PhD from your favorite tech school on the Charles River. Her name was also on the petition that you highlighted in a previous post. Here’s the official Press Release:


    WASHINGTON, Feb. 24, 2009 – President Barack Obama today announced his intention to nominate Kathleen A. Merrigan to be Deputy Secretary of Agriculture.

    “We at the U.S. Department of Agriculture welcome the President’s intention to nominate Dr. Merrigan,” said Secretary Tom Vilsack. “She will bring to USDA extensive expertise in agricultural marketing and nutrition and in legislative affairs and will provide excellent, experienced leadership as we move President Obama’s agricultural and nutritional agenda forward.”

    Merrigan currently is an assistant professor and Director of the Agriculture, Food and Environment M.S. and Ph.D. Program at the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University, Boston.

    In 1999, she was appointed administrator of USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service by then-President Clinton. Prior to that, Merrigan was a senior analyst at the Henry A. Wallace Institute for Alternative Agriculture and an expert consultant at the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations in Rome.

    From 1987 to 1992 she was a staff member on the U.S. Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry where she helped develop the Organic Foods Production Act of 1990 which mandated national organic standards and a program of federal accreditation.

    Merrigan holds a Ph.D. from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in environmental planning and policy, a Master of Public Affairs from the University of Texas and a B.A. from Williams College.

    • I’m excited that they chose Kathleen Merrigan! Thanks for the news!

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