First Lady Michelle Obama paid a visit to the USDA yesterday to thank the staff of the USDA for their work. She also brought a gift: a seedling from the magnolia tree that was planted at the White House by Andrew Jackson 180 years ago. The seedling will be planted at "The People's Garden" that Secretary of Agriculture Vilsack broke ground on last week outside the USDA office in Washington, DC. The People's Garden is not the organic vegetable garden on the White House lawn that food and farm advocates have been calling for, but it is a good first step. Vilsack plans to use the garden as a demonstration of conservation gardening methods and hopes that all of the USDA offices across the nation and the world will plant their own gardens.
After presenting her gift, Mrs. Obama focused on explaining some of the work of the USDA because "it's important for people to know what happens here... from supporting the farmers that produce the food that we eat, to managing the school meal programs that give students the energy and the nutrition they need to get through the day, to providing greater access to fresh fruits and vegetables, to giving struggling families the assistance they need to put food on their table, and to protecting our food supply."
The First Lady mentioned specifically that rural America is hurting economically. And it's an important point. We hear a lot on the news and in the papers about Wall Street and how "the economy" is hurting. We hear less about how real people are affected... how are farmers, for instance, faring in this downturn? Here at Farm Aid, we know the answer all too well. We're hearing from farmers who are worried about this upcoming growing season. Credit, which farmers often need to get seeds planted each spring, is very tight, the cost of production is very high, and farm product prices have taken a dive. Dairy farmers especially are in trouble, with dairy farmers receiving less in milk payments than they are paying to keep their cows fed.
Secretary Vilsasck will have a chance to talk about his plans for helping farmers, rural residents and all of us eaters, when he meets with the farmers of the Federation of Southern Cooperatives tomorrow. The Federation, a 23-year partner of Farm Aid made up of 100 co-ops representing 25,000 families across the south, will hold their annual meeting in Albany, Georgia, this weekend and Vilsack will serve as the keynote speaker tomorrow. Vilsack's visit is especially relevant because the Federation has fought for years for the civil rights of black farmers and civil rights at the USDA is one of Vilsack's top priorities. Click here for more info about the conference and the work of the Federation.
We'll report back on Monday!