President Barack Obama tours MogoOrganic farm with Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, right, and Morgan Hoenig, left, in Mount Pleasant, Iowa. (White House Photo/Pete Souza)
The wholesale re-ordering of US food and agricultural policies is proving a lot more daunting–and expensive–than anyone thought. When geographers talk about “sustainable agriculture,” are they taking these difficulties & complexities into account?
When the eco-friendly, food-savvy Obamas rolled into D.C., they sparked hope for a renovation of the nation’s agricultural priorities. The first family promptly ripped up a plot on the White House lawn, and at the urging of Alice Waters, planted an organic vegetable garden. Michelle Obama invited local school kids to collect its first harvest. Wholesomeness and health were the message — eating right, being environmentally responsible, enjoying nature. It looked like non-industrial food was poised to finally reclaim its place at America’s dinner table.
But, as George W. Bush’s before it, President Barack Obama’s Department of Agriculture is doing little to ensure the survival of Pitts and thousands of other holistic local farmers. Obama is making some changes at the USDA, but they’re the type of improvements that appear larger than they really are. Sustainable agriculture proponents don’t want to complain because finally they’re getting something. But these incremental changes won’t be enough to ensure farmers can stay on their land and sell their produce at reasonable rates. Neither will they clear the path for a new generation of farmers to participate in remaking the food system.
While the public and organic advocates may be wooed by feel-good photo-ops, the fact is Obama has yet to get his hands dirty and truly commit to reforming the industry. The stakes are high: Unless the administration takes immediate steps to remake oligopolistic, fossil-fuel reliant, scorched-earth agriculture, the small farmers meant to lead the way will remain critically endangered.