As a food-obsessed person, I am interested in more than just who will be President Barack Obama’s White House chef — I also eagerly await his announcement for his pick for Secretary of Agriculture. In certain circles, people are speculating about who will head up the USDA. George W. Bush has had three different agriculture secretaries.
All of the following information comes from Jill Richardson at La Vida Locavore, except for the photos — I wanted faces for the names, so found them!
And now to Jill Richardson’s great contribution to this fascinating time in history:
(Thanks to Chrys Ostrander, a sustainable ag organizer in Eastern WA, for compiling and sending me the info below)
People I Know And Like
I didn’t see him on this list but he’s at the top of my “People I Like” list. I met him last July and he was incredibly nice (should I say I looked in his soul and saw his heart like Bush would do and therefore he’s qualified?). He was the Texas Ag Commissioner a while back and he’s also written books about our food system. Hightower gets it and he has gotten it since the ’70s.
Tim LaSalle is CEO of Rodale Institute, a 60-year-old organization dedicated to researching and educating farmers and consumers about sustainable agriculture. He holds his doctorate in depth psychology at Pacifica Graduate Institute, a master’s in populations genetics from Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, and a bachelor of science degree from California Polytechnic State University. For 12 years, he was a full professor at Cal Poly, where he taught dairy science classes and served as the president and CEO of California’s Agriculture Education Foundation. While at Cal Poly, LaSalle started and operated a conventional dairy near Templeton, California. More recently, LaSalle served in an executive capacity with various nonprofit organizations, including the Environmental Center of San Luis Obispo County and the Allan Savory Center for Holistic Management.
I had the pleasure of meeting Tim and touring the Rodale Institute about a month ago. I am not sure if he sees himself as a Secretary of Agriculture because the USDA’s activities are broader than the areas that Rodale focuses on, but nonetheless, he’s a fantastic person who SHOULD play a major role in determining the future of American agriculture. Put Tim in charge of Ag and you’ll see swift action on climate change in a way that heals the land and boosts yields… although a few companies we love to hate (Monsanto, Exxon) may lose a bit of money if we go down that road.
Professor Emeritus of Agricultural Economics, University of Missouri Columbia, College of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources. John was raised on a small dairy farm in southwest Missouri and received his BS, MS, and Ph.D. degrees in agricultural economics from the University of Missouri . He worked in private industry for a time and spent thirty years in various professorial positions at North Carolina State University, Oklahoma State University, University of Georgia. John returned to the University of Missouri 1989, under a cooperative agreement with U.S.D.A, to provide state and national leadership for research and education programs related to sustainable agriculture, retiring in early 2000. Since retiring, he spends most of his time writing and speaking on issues relate to the sustainability of agriculture. Author of the following books: Sustainable Capitalism: A Matter of Common Sense – Small Farms are Real Farms: Sustaining People Through Agriculture – Return to Common Sense – Crisis and Opportunity: Sustainability in American Agriculture.
I heard John Ikerd speak about a year ago. Absolutely fantastic. Totally inspirational. I am not familiar with him beyond what I heard, but I can say that in an overall, general sense, his values and understanding of the situation are right where they need to be to do an excellent job.
Will Allen of Growing Power, 2008 MacArthur Fellow
Will Allen is an urban farmer who is transforming the cultivation, production, and delivery of healthy foods to underserved, urban populations. In 1995, while assisting neighborhood children with a gardening project, Allen began developing the farming methods and educational programs that are now the hallmark of the non-profit organization Growing Power, which he directs and co-founded. Guiding all is his efforts is the recognition that the unhealthy diets of low-income, urban populations, and such related health problems as obesity and diabetes, largely are attributable to limited access to safe and affordable fresh fruits and vegetables. Will Allen received a B.A. (1971) from the University of Miami. After a brief career in professional basketball and a number of years in corporate marketing at Procter and Gamble, he returned to his roots as a farmer. He has served as the founder and CEO of Growing Power, in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, since 1995 and has taught workshops to aspiring urban farmers across the United States and abroad.
Will Allen is WONDERFUL – and I can now say that he’s one of the nicest people you’ll ever meet in person too (I met him about a month ago). I don’t really think an Ag Secretary job would play to his strengths quite so much as another role could. As with LaSalle, heading the USDA would throw in a whole bunch of responsibilities that I just suspect he’s not all that interested in. But should he be one of the major players shaping the future of America’s food system? Absolutely.
Denise has been an organic farmer and farm activist for over 30 years. She and her husband ran a dairy farm for 20 of those 30 years. During this time Denise became interested in agriculture policy that promotes the family farm. She has helped start several progressive programs to fight corporate influence in farming. In the 1990’s she lunched the Women, Food and Agriculture Network — an organization that supports women in farming. She almost won election as Iowa’s ag sec a few years ago.
I think I met Denise a month ago, if I’m thinking of the right person. And, if I’m also thinking of the right person, I’ve heard fantastic things about her for a long time now. She’d be a great pick.
People I’ve Heard Good Things About
A longtime leader in national and international sustainable agriculture, Kirschenmann holds a doctorate in philosophy from the University of Chicago, and has written extensively about ethics and agriculture. He has served on several national and international boards, including the USDA’s National organic Standards Board. He is a distinguished fellow of the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture at Iowa State University. Kirschenmann is from south central North Dakota where he manages his family’s 3,000 acre certified organic farm. He assumed management of the family farm in 1976 when his father became ill. By 1980k the farm was certified organic, one of the early operations to make the transition. The farm is a natural prairie livestock grazing system that combines a none-crop rotation of cereal grains, forages, and green manure. Kirschenmann Family Farms has been featured in national publications including National Geographic, the Smithsonian, Audubon, Business Week, the LA Times and Gourmet magazine. In 1995, Kirschenmann was profiled in an award winning video, “My Father’s Garden,” by Miranda Productions, Inc.
Gus Schumacher, Jr. is the former Under Secretary, for Farm and Foreign Agricultural Services at the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Gus was responsible for the domestic commodities, insurance and farm credit operations of USDA. In addition, he was in charge of USDA’s international trade and development programs. Prior to his appointment in August 1997, he was the Administrator of the Foreign Agricultural Service for 3 years. Before coming to USDA, Mr. Schumacher served as the Massachusetts Commissioner of Agriculture and at the World Bank. From a farm family in Lexington, Massachusetts, Mr. Schumacher attended Harvard College and the London School of Economics and was a Research Associate in Agribusiness at the Harvard Business School.
Kathleen A. Merrigan
Kathleen Merrigan is Assistant Professor, Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University and former head of the USDA Agriculture Marketing Service. She is Director of the Agriculture, Food and Environment Program and the Center for Agriculture, Food and Environment at Tufts. She served twice as Expert Consultant to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, five years as Senior Analyst for the Henry A. Wallace Institute for Alternative Agriculture and five years as Senior science and technology adviser to Senator Patrick Leahy, Chairman of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry. She holds a PhD from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Department of Urban Studies and Planning, Environmental Planning and Policy.
Mark Ritchie serves as Minnesota’s Secretary of State, the state’s chief elections officer. Mark previously worked in the administration of Minnesota’s Governor Rudy Perpich in the Department of Agriculture, responsible for addressing the economic crisis facing family farmer and rural communities. Mark served for twenty years as the president of the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy (IATP), a Minnesota-based public research center working with businesses, churches, farm organizations, and other civic groups to foster long-term economic and environmental sustainability in Greater Minnesota. In 2003 Mark led National Voice, a national coalition of over two thousand community-based organizations from across the country working together to increase non-partisan civic engagement and voter participation. National Voice, through their “November 2” media campaign, registered over 5 million new voters nationwide, making the effort one of the largest non-partisan voter mobilizations in our nation’s history. Over four hundred Minnesota churches, businesses, unions, schools, and community groups participated in the campaign.
People Who Should Stay Far Away From Food and Farms
Collin Peterson Rep. (D-Minn.), current chairman of the House Agriculture Committee
Collin Clark Peterson (b. June 29, 1944 in Fargo, North Dakota), is an American politician from the U.S. state of Minnesota. Peterson has been a Democratic member of the United States House of Representatives since 1991, representing Minnesota’s 7th congressional district, one of eight congressional districts in Minnesota. The district, Minnesota’s largest and most rural district, includes the entire northwestern area of the state. It includes Moorhead, Fergus Falls, Bemidji, Thief River Falls, Willmar, Marshall, Alexandria and part of St. Cloud. Collin Peterson was born in Fargo, North Dakota, grew up on a farm in Baker, Minnesota, and received his B.A. at Moorhead State University in Moorhead. His current home is Detroit Lakes, just east of Moorhead. Since 2007, Peterson has been chairman of the House Agriculture Committee.
If this man is appointed to anything, it should be White House bathroom attendant. He’s a Bush Dog Dem (i.e. a Dem who likes to vote with Bush) who called people who buy organics “dumb” in the last year AND he has single-handedly made the farm bill a much less progressive bill than it could have been.
Tom Vilsack, former Iowa governor.
After his own presidential campaign floundered, Vilsack backed Hillary Clinton in the primary, but has recently been campaigning for Obama. One of Obama’s top campaign strategists, David Axelrod, also ran Vilsack’s 1998 gubernatorial campaign. Vilsack, however, also was heavily involved in education issues in Iowa and could also fit in the role of education secretary as well.
Vilsack is VERY friendly with the biotech industry, who I see as one of the biggest dangers to a future of sustainable agriculture and food in this country. Unlike most of our technologies, which have an ability to screw up our food and our environment for a limited period of time, biotech has the ability to screw us up forever. Furthermore, while it’s more or less understood why pesticides and oil are dangerous (even though some still think they are necessary evils), biotech is presenting itself as the solution and many, including Vilsack, are falling for it.
Charles Stenholm Former Rep. (D-Texas)
Charles Walter “Charlie” Stenholm, (born October 26, 1938) is a politician from the state of Texas. He was a member of the United States House of Representatives for 13 terms, from 1979 to 2005. Stenholm was born in Stamford, Texas and he graduated from Texas Tech University – with a B.S. (1961) and an M.S. (1962) in Agriculture Education (1961). He has operated a cotton farm in Jones County, near Abilene, for many years, and also worked as a vocational teacher. After leaving Congress, Stenholm became a lobbyist, representing various agricultural interests, including the horse meat industry. In 2006, he was the most visible lobbyist for three foreign-owned horse-slaughter plants in the U.S. that are fighting legislation that would force them to close. The legislation appears to be headed to a vote on the House floor by early September. Meat from these horses is used as food in some European Union countries, Japan and Mexico, for zoo food, and for medical purposes.
People Who are Acceptable or “Not So Bad”
Stephanie Herseth Sandlin Rep. (D-S.D.)
Stephanie Herseth Sandlin (born December 3, 1970) is an American lawyer and Democratic politician, currently serving as the sole member of the House of Representatives from South Dakota. She is the youngest woman member of the House, and the first woman elected to the House of Representatives from South Dakota. She won the at-large seat in a special election on June 1, 2004. Prior to her 2007 marriage, she was known as Stephanie Herseth. Herseth Sandlin was raised on her family’s farm near Houghton (between Hecla and Columbia) in a family active in South Dakota politics. Herseth Sandlin received her undergraduate, graduate and law degrees from Georgetown University, the latter in 1997. Prior to her election to the House, Herseth Sandlin was Executive Director of the South Dakota Farmer’s Union Foundation, was in private practice as an attorney, taught at the Georgetown University Law Center, and clerked in the federal court system. Herseth Sandlin serves on four committees in the 110th Congress – the House Committee on Veterans Affairs, the House Committee on Agriculture, the House Committee on Natural Resources, and the Select Committee on Global Warming and Energy Independence. She is Chairwoman of the House Committee on Veterans Affairs Economic Opportunity Subcommittee. She also serves on the Conservation, Credit, Energy and Research; and General Farm Commodities and Risk Management Subcommittees on the Agriculture Committee, as well as the Forests and Forest Health Subcommittee of the Natural Resources Committee.
Tom Buis became National Farmers Union’s 13th president during the organization’s 104th anniversary convention in 2006. Buis has been with the organization since March 1998, previously serving as vice president of government relations. In this capacity, he oversaw the NFU Washington, D.C., government relations office, which advocates the interests of family farmers in Congress and the administration. Prior to joining NFU, Buis served for nearly five years as senior agriculture policy advisor to Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D. In addition, Buis worked for U.S. Rep. Jim Jontz, D-Ind., for nearly five years as legislative assistant and legislative director. He was also special assistant for agriculture to U.S. Sen. Birch Bayh, D-Ind. Before moving to Washington, D.C. in 1987, Buis was a full-time grain and livestock farmer in Putnam and Morgan Counties in West Central Indiana, with brothers Mike and Jeff, who continue to operate the family farm. Additionally, Buis serves as a member of the International Federation of Agricultural Producers (IFAP) executive committee. The international organization represents more than 600 million farm families.
Tom Daschle, Former Senate Majority Leader (D-S.D.): Daschle was an early supporter of Obama and led his team in wooing Super Delegates to the Democratic Convention. Sources say he wanted the Chief of Staff position, but with that taken, he could opt for the USDA or Health and Human Services Cabinet post if offered. If he is tapped for USDA, he would be a “super” Cabinet secretary because of his vast experience in trade policy, energy and of course grain and livestock production topics. He knows Obama well and would be akin to the close relationship former USDA Secretary Dick Lyng had with former President Ronald Reagan. While some say Daschle would prefer a more inside the White House position, his multi-topic portfolio would make him a formidable Cabinet secretary at any post.
People I Know Nothing About
Katy Coba, Oregon’s Director of Agriculture
Katy Coba becomes the 13th ODA director after being appointed by Governor Kulongoski in January. She is no stranger to agriculture or the department. Katy grew up on a Umatilla County wheat ranch and spent nearly six years at ODA from 1989-1994. She was a special assistant to the director and headed up ODA’s marketing efforts before joining Governor Kitzhaber’s staff, where she was a policy advisor on international trade. Immediately prior to rejoining ODA, she served as interim director of the Oregon Economic and Community Development Department. The following are excerpts of an interview with Coba conducted by ODA Director of Communications Bruce Pokarney.
Roger Johnson North Dakota Agriculture Commissioner
Roger Johnson, a third-generation family farmer from Turtle Lake, ND, was elected North Dakota Agriculture Commissioner in 1996 and re-elected in 2000 and 2004. Roger is currently the President Elect of the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture (NASDA). He played a leading role in the development of policies for the 2002 Farm Bill as chairman of the NASDA Rural Development and Financial Security Committee. In this position, he will again be very involved in drafting policy for the 2007 Farm Bill. In September 2005, Roger was elected chairman of the Insterstate Pest Control Compact, a 36-state alliance committed to controlling plant pests, especially in interstate situations. Among the issues of great importance to Roger are economic growth and entrepreneurship in rural areas, development of value-added agricultural industries, animal agriculture and renewable energy resources. He believes that North Dakota must develop new agricultural technologies, businesses, and industries that will fuel further growth in the rural sector, thereby ensuring that agriculture remains the backbone of the state’s economy.
Jim Leach Former Rep. (R-Iowa)
James Albert Smith “Jim” Leach (born October 15, 1942) is the John L. Weinberg Visiting Professor of Public and International Affairs at the Woodrow Wilson School of Princeton University. On September 17, 2007, he was named the interim director of the Institute of Politics at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University, a position he is expected to hold until a permanent director is located after the 2007-2008 academic year. Prior to joining the Princeton faculty, Leach served 30 years as a Republican member of the United States House of Representatives from 1977 to 2007, representing Iowa’s 2nd congressional district (numbered as the 1st District from 1977 to 2003). In Congress he chaired the Banking and Financial Services Committee, the Subcommittee on Asian and Pacific Affairs, and the Congressional-Executive Commission on China. Leach authored legislation on a range of issues including:
* the creation of an international AIDS Trust Fund,
* debt relief for the world’s poorest countries,
* authorization of an International Monetary Fund quota increase,
* making the Peace Corps an independent federal agency,
* requiring the federal government to use soy ink,
* prohibiting Internet gambling,
* restraining federal employee growth, and
* redressing certain Holocaust asset losses.
The legislation he is perhaps best known for is the 1999 [[Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act], one of the seminal pieces of banking legislation of the 20th century. The Act repealed part of the 1933 Glass-Steagall Act which separated commercial and investment banking. Glass-Steagall was passed in 1933 to curb excessive risk-taking and conflicts of interests which contributed to the Great Depression. The passage of Gramm-Leach-Bliley has been criticized as contributing to the subprime mortgage crisis.
Marshall Matz was co-chair of Obama’s rural outreach committee during the Presidential campaign. He’s a lawyer who has represented school nutrition interests. Matz is not as widely known in traditional agricultural circles as some others on this list, but he is principal for Olsson, Frank, Weeda, Terman, Bode and Matz, one of the top agricultural lobbying firms in Washington. According to CQ, Matz is a nutrition expert who has been heavily involved in anti-hunger efforts. He also served as special counsel to the Senate Agriculture Committee.
Kathleen Sebelius Kansas Gov.
Kathleen Sebelius née Gilligan (born May 15, 1948) is currently serving as the 44th Governor of Kansas. She is the second female governor of Kansas, the 2008 respondent to the State of the Union address, and chair-emerita of the Democratic Governors Association. Sebelius was born Kathleen Gilligan and raised in a Roman Catholic family in Cincinnati, Ohio. She attended the Summit Country Day School in Cincinnati, followed by Trinity Washington University in Washington, D.C., and later earned a Master of Public Administration degree from the University of Kansas. She moved to Kansas in 1974, where she served for eight years as a representative in the Kansas Legislature and eight years as Insurance Commissioner before being elected governor. In 2001 Sebelius was named as one of Governing Magazine’s Public Officials of the Year while she was serving as Kansas Insurance Commissioner. In November 2005, Time named Sebelius as one of the five best governors in America.
Rod Nilsestuen Wisconsin Agriculture Secretary
Rod Nilsestuen, 54, served as President and CEO of the Wisconsin Federation of Cooperatives (WFC) for 24 years, building it into one of the most respected cooperative trade associations in the country. For the last four years, he has also headed the Minnesota Association of Cooperatives, which has worked in an alliance with WFC. He founded Cooperative Development Services, a first-of-its kind model for new cooperative development, spearheaded the overhaul of the Wisconsin Agriculture Marketing Act, and played a pivotal role in the creation and establishment of the Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board, a major dairy promotional program, as well as the Wisconsin Corn Promotion Board and the Wisconsin Soybean Marketing Board. Nilsestuen provided the initial leadership in the development of Wisconsin Dairy 2020, the state’s program to bring together a cross-section of the dairy industry to better its economic and political environment. For the past decade, under Rod’s direction, WFC coordinated and staffed the Midwest Dairy Coalition, an industry-wide coalition dedicated to reforming federal dairy policy to give Wisconsin and Midwestern dairy producers a more level playing field. He is a founding chair of the National Rural Cooperative Development Task Force, a pioneering effort that has resulted in the creation of 17 co-op centers and hundreds of co-op development projects nationwide. He is a past chair and board member of the National Cooperative Business Association and the Cooperative Foundation, and has also served on the Wisconsin Rural Leadership Program, the Governor’s Commission on Agriculture, and as initial chair of the Coalition for Agricultural Research, Extension and Teaching and the UW Board of Visitors. He is a 1970 graduate of UW-River Falls and received a law degree from the University of Wisconsin Law School in 1974. Nilsestuen and his wife Carol live in DeForest and have three sons.
Kenneth Lee Salazar
Kenneth Lee Salazar (born March 2, 1955) is an American politician, rancher, and environmentalist from the U.S. state of Colorado. Salazar, a Democrat, served as state Attorney General before winning a U.S. Senate seat in the 2004 Senate elections. He has been the junior U.S. Senator from Colorado since January 2005. He and Mel Martinez (R-Florida) were the first Hispanic U.S. Senators since 1977. They were joined by Bob Menendez (D-New Jersey) in January 2006. He will become Colorado Senior Senator in January 2009, as his colleague, Republican Senator Wayne Allard, has decided to not seek a third term. Serves on the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry, Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources.
Jill Long Thompson
Jill Lynette Long Thompson (July 15, 1952) is an American politician and educator. Born in Warsaw, Indiana, she was raised on a family farm outside of Larwill, Indiana, in Whitley County. She was the Democratic Party candidate in the Indiana gubernatorial election, 2008 and was the first woman in Indiana history to be nominated for governor by a major party. She lives with her husband Don Thompson, a commercial airline pilot, in Marshall County on a farm near Argos, Ind, where they planted 2,000 trees in two days as a symbol of their love. Long graduated from Columbia City Joint High School, in Columbia City, Indiana. Jill Long Thompson was the first in her family to graduate from college. She earned an M.B.A. (1978) and Ph.D (1984) in Business from Indiana University, and a B.S. in Business from Valparaiso University (1974). Long served as a fellow at the Institute of Politics at Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government. She most recently served as CEO and Senior Fellow at the National Center for Food and Agricultural Policy.