President Obama, Your Secretary of Agriculture Choice is The Most Important of All: Here's Why

Dear President-elect Obama,

After a long, hard and contentious campaign you’ve won the Presidency of the United States. Congratulations. Take a moment to enjoy your success. Ok, that was long enough. Now let’s down to business.

You well know that you have a long hard road ahead of you, but your first order of business is to choose a cabinet that is strong, thoughtful and will move this country in the right direction. In my opinion, and in the opinions of many people like me, administration environmental jobs should a top order of business. Our crumbling economy will not matter if we cannot breath our air, drink our water, or eat our food. Relieving the credit crunch won’t make a difference if rates of obesity, cancer, diabetes, heart disease continue to rise. Keeping people in their homes, empowering people to buy new cars will become meaningless unless we fix the food system, the water system, and limit the spread of untested genetically modified organisms (GMOs).

That is why I am calling out to you to take a good look at who you appoint as Secretary of Energy, Head Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, Secretary of Interior, Secretary of Agriculture and possibly the new position, Climate Change Czar — or make this a function of the Department of Homeland Defense.

Of all the cabinet level posts you will fill, there is one that is usually a second thought, but in my opinion is as important as State, Treasury and Defense — the Secretary of Agriculture. Our food system is in dire need of a change and the right person might be able to help begin the overhaul necessary.

The Secretary of Agriculture oversees food safety and sets farm policy.  He/she makes recommendations to Congress on which crops should be subsidized, how agricultural laws are enforced, crop-land conservation, and setting the nations nutritional standards and even organic labeling. They also oversee our food stamp program, food distribution during disaster relief efforts, the US Forest Service and the food that is fed to our children in school. That’s a big job.

I have read that former Iowa Governor, Tom Vilsack is on the short list for this position. From the corn state, Vilsack strongly supports ethanol subsidies. He believes that he has changed the corn fields of Iowa into energy fields. To me that sounds like a shift in use, not better agriculture or energy policy. As he stated in an op-ed in the Argus Leader, “If you drive across Iowa today, you will see a changing landscape marked by new ethanol and biofuel production plants and wind farms. As a state, we became more economically, environmentally and energy secure.”

Today, Iowa farmers are still hurting the soil and water by using petroleum-based pesticides and fertilizers. Furthermore, these farmers have shifted corn from feeding the world to ethanol production, which, as we all know, is not helping increase our independence from foreign oil. But with all his good intentions, former Governor Vilsak is too much of an insider to create really change.

I have also read that your short list includes Tom Buis, the President of the National Farms Union and the Congresswoman for South Dakota Stephanie Herseth Sandlin. These two are also agriculture “insiders” who are in the pocket of industrial agriculture who might working in the best interest of the farmers they represent, mostly corporate farming, but neither are strong enough or creative enough to achieve real change we need in the system.

Then there is former Congressman Charles Stenholm (D-TX). Charlie is a conservative Democrat that joined the Republicans to kill a bill that would have prevented sick cattle that are unable to walk from entering the US food supply. (Remember the video released by the Humane Society of downer cows?) While part of the House Agriculture Committee he received more than $800,000 in PAC contributions and took numerous trips sponsored by agriculture lobbyist groups. After leaving Congress he became a lobbyist for the agriculture and food industry. Again, not someone who is going to change our system for the better.

So by now President-elect Obama you must say, well then who?

There is one man out there who is not already in politics, who has examined our foods system from farm to table, and who understands the impact it plays on our environment, our economy and our health. He has intimate knowledge of not only farmers, but also diaries, feed-lots, and food processors. He is not a Washington insider and to top it off he has already laid out a plan for tackling the issues we face. His plan takes into account the impact agriculture has on our climate, energy dependence, the healthcare system, foreign and trade policies and national security.

As states in his own words:

We need to wean the American food system off its heavy 20th-century diet of fossil fuel and put it back on a diet of contemporary sunshine. True, this is easier said than done — fossil fuel is deeply implicated in everything about the way we currently grow food and feed ourselves. To put the food system back on sunlight will require policies to change how things work at every link in the food chain: in the farm field, in the way food is processed and sold and even in the American kitchen and at the American dinner table. Yet the sun still shines down on our land every day, and photosynthesis can still work its wonders wherever it does. If any part of the modern economy can be freed from its dependence on oil and successfully resolarized, surely it is food.

The scribe of this plan called the Sun-Food Agenda is Michael Pollan, the Knight Professor of Journalism at the Graduate School of Journalism at UC-Berkeley, director of the Knight Program in Science and Environmental Journalism and author.

President-elect Obama, I urge you to read Professor Pollan’s plan as laid out in an article in the New York Times Magazine entitled “Farmer In Chief” and stick with what you have been saying throughout your campaign; that America needs real change.

I urge you to consider Michael Pollan for the Secretary of Agriculture. (Or at least consult with him to mine his knowledge on the issues to make the best choice possible for the position.)

Pollan’s plans are not liberal.  They are not conservative.  They are what is best for America.  And most importantly they are achievable.

As Pollan states:

[The] sun-food agenda promises to win support across the aisle. It builds on America’s agrarian past, but turns it toward a more sustainable, sophisticated future. It honors the work of American farmers and enlists them in three of the 21st century’s most urgent errands: to move into the post-oil era, to improve the health of the American people and to mitigate climate change. Indeed, it enlists all of us in this great cause by turning food consumers into part-time producers, reconnecting the American people with the American land and demonstrating that we need not choose between the welfare of our families and the health of the environment — that eating less oil and more sunlight will redound to the benefit of both.

This is a new era for America and Michael Pollan may just be The Change We Need.

Yes We Can!


Green Luvin’