By Anonymous (not verified) on January 15, 2009

The Senate should put the brakes on Tom Vilsack as secretary of agriculture.

Wednesday’s confirmation hearing for Obama’s nominee was a love fest.

But it shouldn’t have been.

More than 60,000 supporters of organic farming have sent e-mails opposing Vilsack’s nomination.

With a world food crisis, food safety problems and a growing demand for local and organic food, the time was right for a real change in national food policy.

Obama could have picked someone who was knowledgeable about organic farming and local and regional food systems.

Someone who knew the difference between growing food and growing commodity crops.

Someone who felt more at ease mending a fence or thinning carrots than sitting in a corporate boardroom

Instead, he chose Vilsack, the former governor of Iowa, darling of the biotech industry. In fact, in 2001, the Biotechnology Industry Organization named him governor of the year.

Vilsack happily signed the 2005 seed pre-emption law in Iowa, which prohibits local governments from regulating genetically engineered seeds.

Biogenetic farming is incompatible with organic farming. Genetically modified pollen drifts for miles and contaminates both organic and non-genetically modified conventional crops. The huge companies that dominate genetically modified farming push out small organic farmers and local food producers.

Vilsack also is the favorite of large corporations that are exploiting the demand for organics at the expense of small farmers — corporations like Whole Foods and Stonyfield.

And he has been a champion of biofuels, one of the most wasteful uses of our farmland imaginable.

I don't doubt Tom Vilsack is a nice guy who probably did a lot for Iowa agriculture. I know he did a lot for agribusiness, the chemical companies, biotechnology and large-scale farming. Apparently, his vision of better agriculture is bigger, more intensive agriculture.

His nomination reflects poorly on Obama.

But maybe organic farmers should have seen it coming, since Obama had two Monsanto officials on his advisory team. And he specifically endorsed genetically modified crops, stating they were safe and had ”provided enormous benefits to farmers.”

On the other hand, Obama has praised family farmers and organics. “The Good Food movement, the organic food movement, is a wonderful opportunity for farmers to diversify,” he once said. “When they can diversify and get other crops going, we can in fact produce a healthier food. And more profits can go into the hands of family farmers as opposed to the big food processors and mega businesses. Then I think we are doing well for everybody.”

If Obama's heart is really with small farms, local production and organic food, he should not have chosen an agriculture secretary so closely allied with agribusiness.

Jim Goodman is a dairy farmer and activist from Wonewoc, Wis, and a W. K. Kellogg Food and Society Policy Fellow. He can be reached at pmproj@progressive.org.

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By Wendell Berry

Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front

Love the quick profit, the annual raise,
vacation with pay. Want more 
of everything ready made. Be afraid 
to know your neighbors and to die.
And you will have a window in your head.
Not even your future will be a mystery 
any more. Your mind will be punched in a card 
and shut away in a little drawer.
When they want you to buy something 
they will call you. When they want you
to die for profit they will let you know. 
So, friends, every day do something
that won’t compute. Love the Lord. 
Love the world. Work for nothing. 
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it. 
Denounce the government and embrace 
the flag. Hope to live in that free 
republic for which it stands. 
Give your approval to all you cannot
understand. Praise ignorance, for what man 
has not encountered he has not destroyed.
Ask the questions that have no answers. 
Invest in the millennium. Plant sequoias.
Say that your main crop is the forest
that you did not plant,
that you will not live to harvest.


Say that the leaves are harvested 
when they have rotted into the mold.
Call that profit. Prophesy such returns.
Put your faith in the two inches of humus 
that will build under the trees
every thousand years.
Listen to carrion—put your ear
close, and hear the faint chattering
of the songs that are to come. 
Expect the end of the world. Laugh. 
Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful
though you have considered all the facts. 
So long as women do not go cheap 
for power, please women more than men.
Ask yourself: Will this satisfy 
a woman satisfied to bear a child?
Will this disturb the sleep 
of a woman near to giving birth? 
Go with your love to the fields.
Lie easy in the shade. Rest your head 
in her lap. Swear allegiance 
to what is nighest your thoughts.
As soon as the generals and the politicos 
can predict the motions of your mind, 
lose it. Leave it as a sign 
to mark the false trail, the way 
you didn’t go. Be like the fox 
who makes more tracks than necessary, 
some in the wrong direction.
Practice resurrection.

Wendell Berry is a poet, farmer, and environmentalist in Kentucky. This poem, first published in 1973, is reprinted by permission of the author and appears in his “New Collected Poems” (Counterpoint).

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