Outgoing U.S. Department of Agriculture Deputy Secretary Kathleen Merrigan’s advocacy for organic growers transcends her current role.
“Clearly she was a very iconic figure for the organic industry and has been contributing to the growth of the organic industry for a number of years,” said Christine Bushway, executive director of the Brattleboro, Vt.-based Organic Trade Association.
Merrigan’s 1999 to 2001 stint as USDA administrator of the Agricultural Marketing Service — and her work to implement organic regulations — was a plus, said Tom O’Brien, Washington, D.C.-based representative for the Newark, Del.-based Produce Marketing Association.
Merrigan has announced her intention to leave the USDA post.
Merrigan’s advocacy for organics and local farming was never a criticism of other methods, O’Brien said.
“A lot of Kathleen’s initiatives were directed at small farmers, but it wasn’t to the exclusion of everyone else,” he said. “She didn’t make it an us versus them proposition.”
Merrigan also had an open door to produce industry concerns and was a strong advocate for increasing consumption of fresh fruits and vegetables, O’Brien said.
She also challenged the idea that fruits and vegetables were too expensive for consumers, he said.
“She took that issue on directly numerous times,” O’Brien said.
“She would make the case that fresh fruits and vegetables were a good buy.