March 18, 2009
I was privileged to spend the past few days at the Inaugural Meeting of the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC), a well-organized group of stakeholders from around the country ranging from farmers to policy wonks (who are sometimes one in the same) working in coalition on important issues. In addition to learning an incredible amount from this crew, I was thrilled to meet dozens of NSAC members eager to see public health take a larger, more active role in drawing the links between sustainable agriculture and health. I was also encouraged that Secretary Vilsack took the time visit to the NSAC Meeting.
While there is still a long way to go toward promoting sustainable agriculture (and a safe, sustainable, and nutritious food supply),the buzz around this meeting was that our new Administration presents a ripe opportunity for solidifying old and developing new policy that will ensure a sustainable future for our farmers, our economy, and the environment–such a future would greatly benefit human health.
Our nation’s health-specifically the nutrition of our children-was a major point in Vilsack’s presentation, and he emphasized the need for funding through the Child Nutrition and WIC Reauthorization Act (discussed by various stakeholders here, here and here) to make it possible for schools to do “a better job purchasing fruits and vegetables”, to support them in being able to “buy fresh, buy local” (not sure if that was his catch phrase or a shout-out to the long-running Buy Fresh, Buy Local campaign).
Food safety was another issue he outlined as a major focus, especially with the President’s recently announced direction for a joint FDA, USDA, and HHS effort on food safety (which could be a sign of improvements to the current food safety system). He also mentioned the controversial USDA garden (featured in a recent Obama Foodorama “exposé”), stating it would be an organic garden, growing food for area food banks, and run by USDA staff (volunteering their time) and disabled community members.
At the beginning of his remarks, he noted the three major jobs that Obama gave him:
1) Improving the nutrition of our nation’s children,
2) Looking for ways to transition away from fossil fuels
3) Having a commitment to renewable energy
And, he commented that “sustainable” might be his choice if he had to sum up USDA’s work with just one word. Here’s to that one word becoming a reality, and that reality being in-line with the one that NSAC promotes!