On Tuesday, February 24, Food Democracy Now! met with Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack in his office at the U.S. Department of Agriculture to present a petition signed by more than 87,000 Americans calling for sustainable change at the USDA.

The petition was originally created to ask then President-elect Obama to consider candidates for the secretary position with a grassroots background in promoting sustainable agriculture. Since former Iowa governor Tom Vilsack’s nomination, the petition has grown to include a list of twelve candidates, known as the Sustainable Dozen, to fill the important under secretary positions.

“We’re confident that Secretary Vilsack understands the major issues concerning agriculture in the 21st century. He recognizes the health, environmental and energy problems that modern ag policy has helped create and is ready to find innovative solutions to address these issues,” said founder and director David Murphy.

During the meeting, members of the group discussed important topics including a nutritious, local school lunch program and creating incentives for new and beginning farmers.

“Building a healthy, sustainable food system can provide opportunities for new and existing family farms which can ultimately increase the number of midsized farms,” said co-founder Paul Willis, an Iowa hog farmer and founder and manager of Niman Ranch Pork Company.

Members of the group were encouraged with the recent news announced Monday evening that President Obama had selected sustainable food policy expert Kathleen Merrigan as the next Deputy Secretary of Agriculture.

Merrigan was a candidate on Food Democracy Now!’s Sustainable Dozen list and instrumental in the creation of the national organic standards. Currently the director of the Agriculture, Food and Environment MS and PhD Program at the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University, Merrigan has previous USDA experience, serving as an administrator of the Agricultural Marketing Service of the USDA during the Clinton administration.

“Merrigan’s selection as deputy secretary is a bold choice and signals a significant shift in the conversation regarding agriculture. We believe that she and Secretary Vilsack have the capabilities to create a system that reflects the challenges of this century,” said Murphy.

Food Democracy Now! plans to continue to advocate around issues relating to sustainable agriculture and believes the power of the grassroots will be important to implementing future change to return the USDA to the People’s Department as originally intended when created by President Lincoln in 1862.

David Murphy