In early August, newly minted U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue hopped into an RV and launched his five-state Back to Our Roots tour.
Wisconsin was one of the very first stops on the tour — with several highly anticipated meetings planned, including visits to the Wisconsin State Fair, the Franklin-based Hunger Task Force Farm and Wisconsin Farm Bureau President Jim Holte's farm near Elk Mound.
A news release circulating in the weeks before the tour touted it as a chance for Perdue " to hear directly from people in agriculture across the country" and "to gather input on the 2018 Farm Bill and increasing rural prosperity." It noted that along the way, Perdue would meet with farmers, ranchers, foresters, producers, students, governors, Members of Congress, U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) employees, and other stakeholders.
At least, according to Agri-View, a select few stakeholders with some notable absences.
By all accounts, Secretary Perdue is a southern gentleman, but he and his team may not be familiar with Midwestern Nice. An exclusive group of farmers were invited to meet with the Secretary. Members of the media, even some who claimed to have been invited, were turned away from the closed-door meetings.
The experience led Agri-View Managing Editor Julie Belschner to write an editorial, in which she fumed, "In my 30 years of working in journalism, I’ve never been locked out of a meeting where public officials talked with the voters, where they talked with the grassroots of democracy. We’re not talking about tabloids. We’re not talking about political opinionated talk shows. We’re talking about mainstream agricultural media who have been reporting on agriculture for 50 years or more. Both of our reporters in attendance grew up on farms and are still involved in agriculture. It didn’t matter. They were locked out."
This scenario — where concerned citizens are left on the outside looking in and transparency is hard to come by — is one that unfortunately has become all too common in the political arena today.
It reminds me of why I'm grateful for Farmers Union and our cooperative-minded roots. We recognize that the important work of advocating for family farmers and a better rural America cannot be done alone. We need every voice speaking up and helping to shape the policies that will guide agriculture into the future.
You can be a part of that important mission by joining your local chapter and taking part in Farmers Union lobby days and our annual convention, where members reason together on the issues impacting family farmers. The 2018 WFU Annual Convention will be Feb. 2-4 at Chula Vista Resort in Wisconsin Dells. Consider joining us, and experience how powerful it can be when all stakeholders are given the chance to speak.
As for Secretary Perdue, we look forward to his future visits to our great state and wish him well as he looks for the answers he and USDA will need to carry US agriculture forward into a future riddled with uncertainty. Given the difficulties he will face, he might find a bit of inspiration in the Southern Live Oak. This amazing tree and it's evergreen leaves persevere year-round and despite the ups-and-downs that come with the seasons. It's also not only the official tree of his home state of Georgia, but it's also the great emblem of Farmers Union.