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Kathleen Merrigan

In Conversation with #WomeninAg: Naomi Starkman

In agriculture we know that the work of women in our field reaches far beyond one month out of the year and should be celebrated every day. We got such a great response to our Women’s History Month weekly profiles in March that we will now be expanding to a monthly series. We will continue to feature women leaders across agriculture who are opening doors for their peers and contributing to the larger conversation about #womeninag.

To help us get started, this month, we profile Naomi Starkman, the founder and editor-in-chief of Civil Eats. Naomi is also a founding board member and advisor to the Food & Environment Reporting Network. A recovering lawyer, Naomi has worked as a media consultant at The New Yorker and Newsweek magazines and on several farms.

Women Farmers: One Million Strong

In the four years I’ve served as Deputy Secretary, I’ve talked with thousands of women in agriculture – from young women thinking about entering farming to older women who have been tilling the soil for decades.  Each of their stories is powerful on its own.  But taken together, they have been an inspiration to the entire country. And today, we know that there are nearly one million of these stories around the country – nearly one million women farming and ranching on America’s working lands.

A study released today by USDA’s Economic Research Service, Characteristics of Women Farm Operators and Their Farms found that the number of women-operated farms more than doubled between 1982 and 2007. When all women involved with farming are added up – including primary and secondary operators – they are nearly one million strong and account for 30% of U.S. farmers.

Deputy Secretary Holds Roundtable Discussion with Tribal Leaders in South Dakota

Last week, Deputy Secretary Kathleen Merrigan led a USDA delegation deep into the heart of Indian Country in South Dakota.  All three of us and our teams from USDA’s South Dakota state offices for Rural Development, the Farm Service Agency and the Natural Resources Conservation Service were joined by the Acting Director of the USDA Office of Tribal Relations, Max Finberg, along with Darlene Barnes, the regional director of the Food and Nutrition Service, and South Dakota’s Agriculture Commissioner Walt Bones.  We were hosted by the Crow Creek and Lower Brule Sioux nations in the center of our state.  The Deputy Secretary held a roundtable discussion on the importance of agriculture and economic development in Indian Country and visited a unique Native American food company.  She was joined by many tribal leaders and organizations, including farmers, ranchers and food entrepreneurs.

Deputy Secretary Discusses Food Hubs, New Orleans Style

New Orleans is known for many special things, not the least of which is its food.

That’s why Deputy Secretary of Agriculture Kathleen Merrigan chose the crescent city this week to release a new report on the importance of food hubs in America.  The report finds that there is an increasing demand for fresh, local foods and the popularity of food hubs is growing quickly.  In fact, there are well over 200 across the country now, including Hollygrove Farm and Market in downtown New Orleans.

Inspiring Recovery

Earlier this week, I traveled to New Orleans with Deputy Secretary Kathleen Merrigan to meet with the local farming and fishing community. What I saw at the Mary Queen of Vietnam Community Development Corporation (MQVN) was inspirational.

A Word about the Importance of Work/Life from Deputy Secretary Merrigan

Last month, Hurricane Sandy prevented Deputy Secretary Kathleen Merrigan from addressing USDA employees and guests at the Open House planned for National Work & Family Month.  However, she wanted to be sure to take the time to emphasize the importance of USDA’s Work/Life & Wellness programs and what they mean for employees, supervisors and managers at the Department.

Bringing Federal Partners to the Local Foods Table

Three years ago this fall, Secretary Vilsack and I launched the Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food initiative (KYF2).  Since then, we’ve seen interest and participation in local and regional food systems grow beyond anything we expected: whether I’m meeting with buffalo ranchers from the Great Plains or with members of the U.S. Conference of Mayors, I hear about efforts to connect producers and consumers locally and interest in how USDA can help.

In meetings of the White House Rural Council, which has representatives from across the federal government, regional food systems have been a key part of discussions.

Agriculture Deputy Secretary Kathleen Merrigan Visits Common Ground Fair in Maine, Meets with Farmers, Growers and Area USDA Officials

Deputy Secretary of Agriculture Kathleen Merrigan visited the Common Ground Fair on Sunday as a part of her visit to Maine. While at the fair, the Deputy Secretary met with leaders from USDA agencies as well as numerous Maine farmers and gardeners.

During her keynote address at the fair, Merrigan discussed organic farming as well as the Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food initiative. Through this initiative, USDA integrates programs and policies that stimulate food- and agriculturally-based community economic development; fosters new opportunities for farmers and ranchers; promotes locally and regionally produced and processed foods; cultivates healthy eating habits and educated, empowered consumers; expands access to affordable fresh and local food; and demonstrates the connection between food, agriculture, community and the environment.

Recognizing Champions of Change: Strengthening Food Security at Home and Abroad

Earlier today, I had the pleasure of congratulating 11 extraordinary individuals being recognized through the White House Champions of Change program for their work to tackle hunger in the United States and abroad.

The Champions recognized today are making improved access to healthy food a reality for millions of individuals in need. Innovative programs like the Community Food Advocates in New York City, Parents United for Healthy Schools/Padres Unidos para Escuelas Saludables in Chicago, and the Mandela Marketplace in Oakland, California are helping to empower families and communities and reducing the depth and severity of hunger in America. And the work of organizations like Thriive, Fort Valley State University College of Agriculture, Family Sciences and Technology, and Catholic Medical Mission Board are taking on the fight against hunger worldwide.

Small Ohio Producers First to Reap Benefits of Interstate Shipment

This morning at  the Ohio Grown: Local Food Creating Local Opportunities conference at The Ohio State University, I had the pleasure of announcing that Ohio is the first state to join the interstate meat shipment program created by the 2008 Farm Bill. The program provides an opportunity for state-inspected meat and poultry processors to ship their products across state lines, helping these small businesses access new markets.

Before, state-inspected meat facilities like these were limited to selling their products within the state. This new program ensures that they meet federal food safety standards, which will be administered by state food inspectors and agriculture officials and overseen by USDA.  Several small meat processors in Ohio plan to lead the way as the first state-inspected facilities in the country to take advantage of the program.

For example, Ben Fligner, owner of Great Lakes Smoked Meats in Lorain, is proud to be able to expand a business that produces 35 varieties of fully-cooked smoked meat products like andouille sausage, kielbasa, bratwurst and knackwurst.