Will the "Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food" bureaucracy at the U.S. Department of Agriculture be around in a couple of years if President Obama is defeated in November? Not likely.
I put the same question to the Fresh Produce Industry Discussion Group, and their responses generally mirrored mine, with about 80% predicting the program’s demise if President Obama is defeated in November.
One member of the group concluded he doesn’t see how the Know Your Farmer fits into the mix of federal programs. Calling it a faddish government program, he said “the issue of KYF is an inherently local one and it seems state programs are much more appropriate to handle the sort of work that KYF is trying to cover.”
Another member defended the initiative and observed the Know Your Farmer initiative coordinates efforts between agencies but costs little money on its own.
Yet another commenter aptly said the real question should be whether “Know your Farmer” program would survive if Kathleen Merrigan leaves USDA.
Indeed, the USDA’s enthusiasm for local food issues appears to be driven by USDA deputy secretary Merrigan, the one-time organic and alternative agriculture activist.
If Merrigan leaves the Administration or if the GOP wins the White House, the Know Your Farmer initiative and internal agency efforts will lose steam.
In about three years or so, the Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food initiative will be looked back on as a short-lived exercise in food system engineering by progressive-minded political appointees at the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
An example of Republican thinking on the issue is found in Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan. and ranking member of the Senate Agriculture Committee. Robert questioned Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack at a March 7 committee hearing whether 27 programs involved with the “Know your Farmer” initiative are necessary for one of the fastest growing sectors in agriculture.
Roberts pointed out that every U.S. agricultural product sold, whether it winds up in China or Chicago, has a local impact.
“Sometimes purchasing a tomato grown in Southeast Kansas at a local farmers market on a hot summer day makes the most sense and sometimes purchasing a tomato grown in Florida at the local grocery store during the cold winter months makes the most sense,” Roberts said in an opening statement. “Regardless of the season, consumers continue to demand more local products, and many business and markets are meeting producer demand without the need for taxpayer support.”