U.S. Department of Agriculture Deputy Secretary Kathleen Merrigan told audiences at N.C. State and N.C. A&T State universities during a Feb. 9 visit that she came to North Carolina because the Center for Environmental Farming Systems’ commitment to promoting local food economies.
Merrigan lectured to packed classrooms of students and other guests at both universities. CEFS is a partnership of N.C. State, N.C. A&T State University and the N.C. Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. North Carolina was the first state where she visited university campuses this year, and Merrigan told audiences she was impressed with their knowledge of agriculture.
Throughout her lectures, she kept audience members engaged by asking questions that they could respond with the help of “clickers,” which tallied and displayed their response. Questions ranged from topics such as what is North Carolina’s top-selling agricultural commodity (broiler chickens) to how much does a new combine cost ($250,000).
Merrigan, named one of Time magazine’s “100 Most Influential People of the World” in 2010, oversees the day-to-day operation of USDA’s many programs and spearheads the $149 billion USDA budget process. She has managed the Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food initiative that highlights the connection between farmers and consumers and supports local and regional food systems increasing economic opportunity in rural America. She also helped to spearhead the Organic Food Production Act.
Merrigan said that younger generations must help the world prepare for the 9 billion people expected to live on Earth by 2050, and the resulting shortages of water, land and other resources. Having a stable, reliable food supply is integral to world peace and liberty, she said.
She also praised North Carolina’s 10% Campaign, an online effort initiated by CEFS to get consumers to spend 10 percent of their food dollars on food from local sources. The economics just make sense, she said. Of $100 spent on local food, $73 remains in the local economy. When food purchases are not local, only $43 of $100 stays in the community, she said.
She also described efforts of the “Local Food Hub” of Charlottesville, Va., which helps connect growers with consumer markets and “baseball cards” about farmers, which strive to promote the story behind the food. On the commodity side, the organization “Shepherd’s Grain” helps provide consumers with locally produced flours and grains.
Merrigan’s visit is an important component of CEFS’ ongoing Farm to Fork initiative to build North Carolina’s local food economy. CEFS is a partnership of N.C. State University, N.C. A&T State University and the N.C. Department of Agriculture and Consumer Sciences. The center promotes education, research and extension efforts in sustainable agriculture. CEFS also developed The 10% Campaign to encourage North Carolina consumers to spend 10 percent of their food dollars locally.
More information on Merrigan is available on the USDA website.