This last November, things certainly felt different didn’t they? We all knew something was coming. Some of us were hopeful that perhaps it would be a green party candidate and a White House Administration that put the environment and its relationship with humanity above all else. What a wonderful trickle down logic that would have made. Alas, here we are with a new Administration that, it has been suggested, may have forgotten about the environment altogether when planning their national ‘to do’ list. And yet, a little slow out of the gate but polite and friendly the whole time getting here, Sonny Perdue, former Governor of Georgia, now awaits senate confirmation to the cabinet position of Secretary of Agriculture and a lot of people in the world of sustainable agriculture are nervous. Indeed, some are very angry. How will urban farming and the progress made in sustainable agriculture fare under Sonny Perdue’s four year reign?
Wading through the bias media spouting pro and con arguments for Perdue’s cabinet appointment, with past political issues used to mar a working knowledge of traditional agriculture, it can be difficult to predict how successfully established USDA programs will manage under the new White House Administration’s leadership. Yet, sinking a ship currently afloat because you don’t like the look of the new captain isn’t the best idea either. What can we know about Perdue’s soon to be reign in the Big House of Green?
Former Georgia governor Sonny Perdue was raised on a diverse row crop and dairy farm in the heart of Georgia. Today, Perdue has his own well established agribusiness and close ties to the international grain and feed markets. His focus and experience has been for a long time Big Ag. Between President Trump’s planned 21 percent cut to the USDA’s budget and Perdue’s background in traditional agriculture, many progressives are concerned that funding will be cut to vital social programming. Many worry that if Perdue is confirmed on Monday April 24, which looks likely given the favorable hearing he already received from the bipartisan Ag Committee back in March, that all the progress made in urban farming and sustainable agriculture, and its inroads into federal programming, will be lost to a lack of funding from the Administration and a lack of knowledge by the Secretary of Agriculture.
The main issues concerning progressive and pro sustainable voters are Perdue’s past stances on immigration and his lack of sustainable agriculture programs and its many outreaches, such as school lunch programs, community nutrition programs, organic farming education and programs and policies that protect the environment, keep waterways clear and reduce seasonal run off.
“Farming and farmers have been my life ever since. I have lived and breathed the exhilaration of a great crop and the despair and devastation of a drought. I learned by experience what my father had told me as a child, “If you take care of the land, the land will take care of you”” said Perdue during his Senate committee hearing.
Members of the Ag Committee during the hearing reflected concerns of budget issues and program cuts and looked for assurances from Perdue that he would support the work already done and aid in making sure the work could continue. In most cases those assurances were received. Perdue did indicate the need for some tightening of existing programs to make them work more efficiently and expressed concerned regarding imports, specifically sugar from the south, undercutting American goods and his desire to change that. Cross agency communication was a huge part of Perdue’s approach. Past issues between Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulations and farm programs were a priority for Perdue.
“I think the relationship with the administrator of the EPA to make sure our producers and farmers don’t get caught in some of the unintended consequences of rules that have gone awry. Trying to be compliant they [farmers] get caught into a web of rules that are very onerous and I will not only try to provide the staff so that they can do good conservation, good soil preservation but work with our administrator at EPA to do that as well,” explained Perdue during the Committee hearing.
Many worry Perdue’s stance on climate change or his denial of its existence could affect United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) policy. American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF) President Zippy Duvall praises Perdue as the Ag Secretary Nominee and assured naysayers, in a recent interview with the Michigan Farm Bureau, that Perdue firmly believed in making decisions based on “sound science.”
Perdue also addressed migrant worker concerns, committing to be a voice for the immigrant that worked full time and year round on American farms. The issue of documented and undocumented was raised by Committee members but the distinction was not made by Perdue.
In the array of wonders that is the current White House cabinet members, Sonny Perdue is the soft sell. If Douglas Adams were to plug him into the Guide and factor in a business as usual attitude and a strong educational reaction to detrimental policy, the screen would read MOSTLY HARMLESS. There is only so much one person can do in a position of authority. It is the checks and balances of the American people that are necessary to shape policy to better support sustainable agriculture programs in America.
Like an urban lot full of abandoned tires and broken lawnmowers, the USDA under a more traditional administration is not lost. It is up to those who predict failure to ensure that does not happen; To prove the collaborative spirit of the sustainable farm movement will shine through the politics. With an influx of passion, a massive dose of education and a crossing the aisles approach to making community, we can keep cleaning up that empty lot one piece of garbage at a time. And not too far in the future we can hope, that with patience, careful tending and continual teaching, a wonderful garden still can grow.