Posts Tagged ‘USDA’

Alice Waters to the Rescue

Friday, February 20th, 2009

Recommended reading: the op-ed piece in today’s New York Times by Alice Waters and colleague Katrina Heron. They describe how the USDA’s $9 billion-a-year school lunch program has become a way to distribute unhealthy high-fat commodity food—some of the same ingredients found in fast food—to our schools, and how the resulting meals routinely fail to meet basic nutritional standards. They recommend scrapping the program and starting from scratch, pointing out that advocacy groups like Better School Food have managed to work with local farmers to provide kids with healthy, fresh food.

Last night on the news, I watched Michelle Obama, continuing to make the rounds to various federal agencies, arrive at the USDA bearing a gift—a magnolia seedling propagated from a tree planted on the White House grounds by Andrew Jackson. She said she wanted it to grow in one of the new community gardens that will be created at every USDA facility worldwide. It was a nice gesture, but a missed opportunity. Imagine if MIchelle had brought a tomato or apple seedling instead and used the occasion to promote healthy, organically grown fruits and vegetables for the nation’s children—she is, after all, a former hospital administrator. Another good thing she could do is create a model organic garden at the White House to advance the movement for healthy food and healthy kids. 

The People’s Garden

Wednesday, February 18th, 2009

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack celebrated Lincoln’s birthday by establishing the inaugural USDA People’s Garden at the agency’s headquarters. In the words of the USDA, “The Secretary declared the stretch of pavement permanently closed and returned back to green.” 

At the ceremony, the Secretary announced the goal of creating a community garden at each USDA facility worldwide. These will include ”a wide variety of garden activities,” including embassy window boxes, tree planting, and field office plots. They will be designed to promote “going green concepts,” including landscaping and building design to retain water and reduce runoff; roof gardens for energy efficiency; native plantings; and sound conservation practices.

So, here’s what we know about the inaugural “People’s Garden” so far: It will add 612 square feet of planted space to an existing garden traditionally planted with ornamentals. It will also eliminate 1,250 square feet of unnecessary paved surface at the USDA headquarters and return the landscape to grass. Grass? You’d think the agency that represents farmers could do better than that.

Some interesting facts: Abraham Lincoln founded the Department of Agriculture in 1862 and referred to it as “The People’s Department” in his last annual message to Congress. In 1860, farmers comprised 58 percent of the American labor force, compared to less than 1 percent today. The USDA’s 2009 budget is about $95 billion and includes a mishmash of mandatory and discretionary programs. You can find out how the agency is spending the money here.