Kathleen Merrigan’s stint as deputy secretary of agriculture coincided with some positive developments for the fresh produce industry.
Merrigan championed organic agriculture, of which produce makes up the largest sector at about 40% of sales, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
During her tenure, the USDA established a goal in 2009 to increase certified organic operations by 20% by the end of 2015.
Her tenure also coincided with gains for produce beyond the organic sector, notably in federal feeding efforts.
While she may be remembered by many for her vocal support for local and organic agriculture, her support for expanding healthful foods in federal feeding efforts benefited conventional products too.
Merrigan stood up for the expanded role of fresh fruits and vegetables last year when some legislators challenged calorie limits on updated school nutrition standards, insisting the new standards give students adequate nutrition for the school day.
Her support for local food production dovetailed with expanding access to produce in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (food stamps) through USDA grants expanding wireless technology at farmers markets, which saw low-income Americans’ SNAP expenditures at farmers markets grow by 400% since 2008, according to USDA.
Given the Obama administration’s focus on improving nutrition through federal feeding programs, it’s a safe bet Merrigan’s successor will embrace priorities that should align with produce industry interests.
Whatever administration succeeds the current one, there is legitimate reason to bet fruits and vegetables will remain a high priority at the USDA.