Organic food and farming in the USA: After 4 years of regressive agricultural policies under the Trump presidency, all eyes are turning to the Biden administration to rekindle the cause of regionally grown, organic food. The New York Times investigates the role of a reinvigorated Department of Agriculture in promoting an industry based around nutritious, locally produced, environmentally friendly organic food and the suprising legacy of the Trump era.
The article from January 2021 reports that a demoralized, understaffed U.S. Department of Agriculture, faced with an pro-agribusiness administration and a global pandemic, has been severely hampered in its effectiveness. The department now faces 5 major challenges: first and foremost, to fight hunger; to promote social change and fight climate change; once they have managed to get the pandemic under control, they can then turn to boosting regional food systems and helping farmers.
One of the ironies of the lack of assistance from the Agriculture department under Trump for organic food and farming was that many organizations that focus on locally grown, healthy organic food were forced to reduce their reliance on federal funding and forge their own alliances. The good-food movement proponents linked up with other competing organizations and found ways to innovate without relying on government support. But can the good-food movement hope for better under Biden?
Many critics point to the likely appointment of Tom Vilsack as Agriculture secretary. Vilsack held the post under Obama before returning to the business world as the head of a global dairy trade group. Although his extensive experience means he can hit the ground running, he is also seen by others as someone lacking a fresh, progressive view of how to improve the food system.
One area in which progressive change desperately needs to be felt is in fighting hunger. Here, the focus is on providing free school meals and teaming up with local farms and food producers to supply schools and providers of meals to poor children with fresh, organic food. The pandemic has accelerated the pace of change in this area. Indeed, changes that many people thought would take decades to achieve, such as universal school meals, stronger urban-rural supply chains and e-commerce for agriculture, have picked up speed as a result of the pandemic. Forced to fed for themselves through lack of funding under Trump, good-food advocates have been looking more locally for support.
If, say many advocates of progressive food policies, there is one thing that will become stronger in the future, it is that organic food and farming advocates will re-focus their efforts not on affecting change at a national level but by creating – faster – change at a local and regional level. When change comes, say the advocates, it will not come from Washington, but from much closer to home.