Latest speculation about Obama's secretary of agriculture

Prominent advocates of sustainable agriculture, local foods, and more environmentally-friendly farming have sent an open letter to Barack Obama urging him to appoint a “sustainable choice for the next U.S. Secretary of Agriculture.” Omnivore’s Dilemma author Michael Pollan and poet Wendell Berry were among the 88 people who signed the letter. They suggested six good choices to head the USDA, including two Iowans:

1. Gus Schumacher, former Under Secretary of Agriculture for Farm and Foreign Agricultural Services and former Massachusetts Commissioner of Agriculture.

2. Chuck Hassebrook, executive director, Center for Rural Affairs, Lyons, Neb.

3. Sarah Vogel, former Commissioner of Agriculture for North Dakota, lawyer, Bismarck, N.D.

4. Fred Kirschenmann, organic farmer, distinguished fellow at the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture in Ames, Iowa, and president of the Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture, Pocantico Hills, NY.

5. Mark Ritchie, Minnesota Secretary of State, former policy analyst in Minnesota’s Department of Agriculture under Governor Rudy Perpich, co-founder of the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy.

6. Neil Hamilton, Dwight D. Opperman Chair of Law and director of the Agricultural Law Center, Drake University, Des Moines, Iowa.

Incidentally, Hamilton published an op-ed column in the Des Moines Register on Monday urging Obama to establish a “New Farmer Corps.”

Anyway, the people who signed the open letter are likely to be disappointed by Obama’s decision, because the reported short list for the post doesn’t include any advocate of sustainable agriculture. OrangeClouds115/Jill Richardson argues here that Kansas Governor Kathleen Sebelius would be the least-bad option among the people Obama is considering to run the USDA. Pennsylvania Secretary of Agriculture Dennis Wolff would be a particularly bad choice.

On a related note, Ed Fallon wrote Obama a letter applying for the job of “White House Farmer.” Michael Pollan advocated the creation of this position in an article for the New York Times Sunday Magazine on October 12. Obama read Pollan’s piece (he even paraphrased points from it in an interview with Time magazine), but it is not known whether the president-elect supports setting aside a few acres of the White House lawn to be cultivated organically by a White House Farmer.

Fallon campaigned for John Edwards before the Iowa caucuses but endorsed Obama immediately after Edwards dropped out of the presidential race. His letter to Obama is after the jump.

Dear President-elect Obama,

With my broad background in politics, community organizing, community gardening and farming, I write to apply for the job of “White House Farmer,” a term I first came across in an article by Michael Pollan (“Farmer in Chief,” New York Times, October 12, 2008.  Pollan writes:

“This new post would be charged with implementing what could turn out to be your most symbolically resonant step in building a new American food culture.  And that is this:  tear out five prime south-facing acres of the White House lawn and plant in their place an organic fruit and vegetable garden.”

Pollan goes on to remind us of Eleanor Roosevelt’s efforts to help ignite the Victory Garden movement in 1943 by planting a garden on the White House lawn, and how by the end of World War II, “more than 20 million home gardens were supplying 40 percent of the pro duce consumed in America.”

Pollan’s not the only one talking up this idea.  Perhaps you’re familiar with a website launched last February called “Eat the View!”  Perhaps you are already considering such a position.  At any rate, though leaving Iowa would be difficult, I would be honored to serve in this capacity and believe I am well qualified.  As I see it, the challenge involves both managing a successful fruit and vegetable garden (and a small chicken coop for eggs!) and promoting greater food security across the country.

I will gladly supply a formal resume.  For now, let me summarize the relevant points in my background and experience:


•    Served 14 years in the Iowa Legislature, and ran for Governor and Congress.

•    Worked as a consultant with John Edwards’ campaign for president in 2007.

•    Co-founded and directed two non-profit organizations.

•    Traveled extensively across Iowa promoting farmland preservation initiatives.

•    Co-founded the North Park Neighborhood Association.

•    Co-founded a business which focuses in part on promoting locally grown foods.


•    Raised much of my family’s produce over the past twenty years.

•    Helped establish and manage a community garden comprising five city lots.

•    Coordinated the planting of 25,000 oak trees on my family’s farm in Ireland.

•    Apprenticed on two farms in Nova Scotia in the early 1980s.

•    As a Legislator, served on the House Agriculture Committee for six years.

•    Developed a business plan for a grocery store featuring locally-grown food.

I have submitted the Expression of Interest Form available on website, and look for ward to proceeding with the next steps.

To conclude, let me again quote Pollan: “{T}he president should throw his support behind a new Victory Garden movement, this one seeking ‘victory’ over three critical challenges we face today:  high food prices, poor diets and a sedentary population.”

I am hopeful that your administration will help ignite this movement, and I am eager to be a part of it.  Thank you.


Ed Fallon

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