Thursday, March 14, 2013

Deputy Agriculture Secretary Kathleen Merrigan Steps Down

Big work boots to fill: USDA loses its champion of local and regional food systems; Vilsack salutes his Deputy...
Agriculture Deputy Secretary Kathleen Merrigan is stepping down from her post after serving for all of President Obama's first term, she announced today.  As the second highest ranking official at the agency, Merrigan will be remembered as a champion of local and regional food systems, an advocate for organic agriculture, and for developing USDA's 'Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food' initiative.  Merrigan has not announced future plans, but will remain on duty until the end of April, a USDA official told Obama Foodorama. (Above, visiting a Virginia farm when launching Know Your Farmer in 2009)

"I am grateful to President Obama for the opportunity to serve as Deputy Secretary and be part of his leadership team," Merrigan said in a statement.  "It has been an ambitious first term."

"From implementing the 2008 farm bill, improving school meals, expanding opportunities for American farmers, spending countless hours in the White House situation room, to shepherding USDA budgets through challenging times, it has been an honor to play a small part in history."

While in office, Merrigan was critically involved in budgetary issues, boosting farm to school programs, helping the growth of farmers markets nationally, and wooing an entire generation of youth to once again fall in love with farming, with many, many visits to schools and colleges.  She was also a staunch advocate for beginning, minority, and women farmers and ranchers.

"I hope that during my tenure, I was able to help open USDA’s doors a little wider, inviting new and discouraged constituencies to participate in USDA programs," Merrigan said.

For her groundbreaking work, Merrigan was named to the 2010 Time 100 list of the most influential people in the world, and in 2012, she was honored by the James Beard Foundation with its Sustainable Leadership Award.  

In a statement, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack praised his second-in-command.

"USDA Deputy Secretary Kathleen Merrigan has helped USDA achieve record results over the past four years. She has played a vital role in the Department-wide focus on the Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food initiative, as well as our efforts to achieve budget efficiencies and savings during an uncertain budget time," Vilsack said.

"Deputy Secretary Merrigan has led USDA's efforts to implement important regulations, and she has been an important advocate for a strong National Organic Program.  I deeply appreciate her service, and I wish her all the best in her future endeavors.” 

Merrigan's full statement on her departure:

"Today I am announcing that I will be leaving USDA. I am grateful to President Obama for the opportunity to serve as Deputy Secretary and be part of his leadership team.  I also want to thank the US Senate for its unanimous confirmation and the many members of Congress, particularly Chairman Leahy, with whom I have worked closely to ensure support for USDA programs.
 
It has been an ambitious first term. From implementing the 2008 farm bill, improving school meals, expanding opportunities for American farmers, spending countless hours in the White House situation room, to shepherding USDA budgets through challenging times, it has been an honor to play a small part in history.

I hope that during my tenure, I was able to help open USDA’s doors a little wider, inviting new and discouraged constituencies to participate in USDA programs.

With Secretary Vilsack at the helm, aided by very talented and dedicated USDA employees, I am able to leave fully confident that, even in these difficult budget times, USDA will thrive and continue to improve its service to the American people." 


*Photos by Eddie Gehman Kohan/Obama Foodorama