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Cook Organic not the Planet Campaign

Goodbye, U.S.D.A., Hello, Department of Food and Well-Being

It’s time the secretary of agriculture leverages the department’s impact for more than the benefit of agribusiness.

With just one cabinet appointment, President-elect Joe Biden could tackle economic inequality, the rural/urban divide, climate change, the growing mistrust of science, systemic racism and even the coronavirus.

That appointment is Secretary of Agriculture.

Some view the U.S. Department of Agriculture (U.S.D.A.) as a backwater that matters only to the nation’s two million farmers. But this perception is at odds with both the department’s actual budgetary allocation and its history: Two thirds of the U.S.D.A.’s $146 billion annual outlay goes to programs addressing nutrition and food insecurity, not to agriculture (or forestry, also in the department’s domain).

And the U.S.D.A. invests hundreds of millions each year in financial and technical assistance for rural communities to improve infrastructure that most urban residents take for granted — electrification, broadband access, water and waste disposal, housing, health care and public safety. Yet broad sections of the rural population feel — indeed have been — left behind.