Vilsack O'Brien

In another sign that vision, integrity and persistence will take you everywhere, Food Democracy Now! would like to congratulate Denise O’Brien, an Iowa organic farmer on her new career in the Obama administration as an agricultural policy advisor in Afghanistan. 

O’Brien is a well-known and much respected leader in the Iowa and national farm community for her pioneering work in advancing opportunities for women in agriculture. Fighting for fair prices for family farmers and working to reform U.S. agricultural policy since the 1980s farm crisis, O’Brien has had a storied career addressing the United Nations General Assembly on behalf of farmer and founding Women, Food and Agriculture in1997. Food Democracy Now! was proud to include her on our “Sustainable Dozen” campaign of candidates at the beginning of the Obama administration when we advocated for personnel with a background in sustainable agriculture at the USDA.

O’Brien’s conviction and dedication to building a legacy for women in Iowa agriculture, an occupation dominated by men in Midwestern states, and her devotion to making local and organic agriculture a part of the mainstream has won her many fans over the years and a legion of supporters.

In 2006, O’Brien ran as the Democratic candidate for Iowa Secretary of Agriculture and nearly won in a close race that was dogged by dirty tricks near the end of the campaign. Despite being outspent two to one on campaign ads and a barrage of negative publicity from agribusiness interests in the final days, O’Brien came within two percentage points of winning the election versus a conventional corn and soybean farmer, Bill Northey, a Republican and Iowa’s current Secretary of Agriculture.

Since the 2006 election, O’Brien has continued to be an inspiring voice for sustainable agriculture advocates across the country and the Obama administration is fortunate to have someone with such devotion to spreading the benefits of family farm agriculture on their team.

According to press reports, O’Brien left for Afghanistan this past weekend and will travel to the Nangahar Province, on the Pakistan border where she’ll work to “help restore the country’s infrastructure and assist farmers…working to establish a sort of ‘extension service’ for local farmers, and other such services.”

While searching the internet for some updated biographical information, I found this quote from Denise, a friend and hero of mine, that I believe represents the type of vision that the Obama administration and Afghanistan’s farmers would do well to embrace.

“Organic farmers are thinkers,” says Denise O’Brien, in a typical comment. “They know about the interaction of the microbes in the soil, and they’re also in tune with the broader “social agenda, taking care of their communities. Instead of being all about feeding the world, they’re more interested in taking care of the neighborhood.”

Here at Food Democracy Now!, we wish Denise the best of luck in her new endeavors and know that she will win the hearts and minds of all that she comes in contact with, just as she has done here in Iowa and beyond.