Interview with Kathleen Merrigan Deputy Secretary of Agriculture USDA, James Beard Foundation Award Winner
Kathleen Merrigan, USDA
Kathleen Merrigan, Deputy Secretary of Agriculture, U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), is a James Beard Foundation Award Winner for her efforts to strengthen the critical connection between farmers and consumers, create new opportunities for farmers, support regional food infrastructure and bring agriculture into our daily conversations through efforts such as USDA’s Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food initiative.
Our interview is below.
Gratitude Gourmet: Congratulations on your Award! Please tell me more about your efforts to strengthen the connection between farmers and consumers.
Kathleen Merrigan: There has been a renaissance of interest in the world of agriculture and how food was produced. For me it is so exciting. Before people didn't want to talk about this, but we've really come into a new time period where people are just all about food, where it's local/regional, i.e. the drought farmers are dealing with. I have been to over 30 college campuses talking to young people about American agriculture.
The average Farmer age is 59, most are over 65 – we need to talk to people about getting engaged in policies relating to agriculture and transition people into agriculture. I was just up in Portland, Maine and Cleveland discussing how food systems can connect to jobs.
Gratitude Gourmet: How has the Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food initiative grown since its inception in 2009 and where do you see the program headed in the future?
Kathleen Merrigan: It's a huge bureaucracy. How does someone know how to navigate system? We want to decode and demystify that to help people figure out what systems are available. On the GIS map, communities can go to the map and have their own conversations. It gives them more information about our resources, how do we build up our local resource systems and empower communities across the US.
Gratitude Gourmet: Can you share some case studies of Communities which have benefited?
Kathleen Merrigan: I can't share the community names but there are three community examples in cities and rural areas, i.e. a hoop house, a seasonal high tunnel structure and we've funded a variety of them. What an amazing difference it has made in their production. In Alaska, we have a cost-share program which has been transformative. When I was up in Maine and New Hampshire, farmers have said it has been great to provide local products to consumers including during colder weather.
Gratitude Gourmet: Thank you.
Note: Post Interview per the USDA site, I noticed that in Ohio, Flying HIGH will use Farmers Market Promotion (FMPP) funds to "recruit and train young urban adults as farmers, showing them how to grow and sell produce at new farmers markets in Youngstown and throughout Mahoning County. A combination of production and marketing education, technical support services, supplies and professional development will have significant impact on the long-term success of young farmers in the community."
Related James Beard Foundation Leadership Award Articles:
Interview with Tensie Whelan, President Rainforest Alliance
Interview with Dr. Jason Clay World Wildlife Fund (WWF)