The team that takes over the Department of Agriculture needs a working knowledge of small towns and a realization that power is too concentrated.
Over the years, at my own expense, I have written thousands of words and traveled many miles to promote change that would result in my rural dream. Up until now my own U.S. Department of Agriculture Dream Team has remained just that: a dream.
It turns out that change is easier to talk about than to accomplish.
A lot of time and money have been invested in U.S. agriculture by a number of different players. Some of us considered that money well spent. Others of us saw negative implications for our own livelihood and for the health and well-being of our small communities.
We now know that concentrations of wealth in ever-fewer hands do little for the common good. Much of the work our government now faces deals with overcoming this concentration of money and power. In so many different ways, rural America, too, is a victim of concentration. Declining profitability brought on by market concentration is at least partly responsible for the decline in the number of working farms and the poor health of too many rural communities. We have not been well-served by those policies. But sometimes we forget in our zeal for change that profit is not a God-given right so much as a treasure to be sought.
However, the map to that treasure should never be controlled by a wealthy few.
It was heartening to see former Iowa Governor Tom Vilsack chosen to head USDA. Secretary Vilsack brings a working knowledge of corporate agriculture with him to his office, a fact that displeases some who wish to reboot American food production completely. On the other hand, as a working small town attorney he knows better than most, on a very personal scale, both the value and reward of overcoming adversity. He knows average farmers and how they make a living.
He is a Midwestern treasure in his own right.
More names are coming out, those who might serve under Secretary Vilsack. Among those mentioned are Jim Miller of National Farmers Union; Karen Ross, president of the California Winegrape Growers Association; and Chuck Hassebrook of the Center for Rural Affairs, located in tiny Lyons Nebraska, population 963.
Any of these folks would bring new talent and a fresh outlook to USDA.
Because I know Chuck personally, because Chuck and I have advocated for many of the same changes in rural policy, and because I know that like Secretary Vilsack, Chuck would bring understanding and support to any USDA rural development initiative, it is my hope that he will be among those chosen to help make change a reality.