Wednesday September 12, 2012 | 09:43 AM

WASHINGTON – The annual celebration of Maine’s robust organic farming community has landed the Obama administration’s No. 2 agriculture official as a speaker.

Kathleen Merrigan, deputy secretary within the U.S. Department of Agriculture, will visit Maine later this month to speak at the Common Ground Country Fair in Unity. Her speech is slated for 1 p.m. on Sept. 23. The following day, Merrigan is expected to visit Portland-area schools to see how they are incorporating school-run gardens into the curriculum and their cafeteria fare.

Now in its 36th year, the Common Ground Country Fair is organized by the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association and drew nearly 60,000 visitors last year. The fair runs from Sept. 21-23 this year.

Jim Ahearne, Common Ground’s director, said Merrigan is the highest ranking administration official to participate in the fair during his years with the organization. As deputy secretary, Merrigan oversees day-to-day operations at the USDA as well as the agency’s $149 billion budget process.

Merrigan helped the USDA develop the federal government’s labeling rules and standards for organic foods during a previous stint at the department. She is also is past director of the Agriculture, Food and Environment program at Tufts University.

On Sept. 24, Merrigan is expected to visit Portland schools involved in a pilot project in which produce grown in a school garden is used in the cafeteria, according to the office of U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree, D-District 1, who invited the deputy secretary to Maine. Pingree is a member of the House Committee on Agriculture.

News of her visit comes at a time when the two chambers of Congress are under pressure from farmers to finish work on a 5-year Farm Bill that is currently stalled in the House. Farmers from across the nation are expected to hold a rally outside of the Capitol on Wednesday morning calling on Congress to take action on the Farm Bill.



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Open Season is your guide to the 2014 campaign. Our team of political writers has its sights set on Maine’s major elections, from the Blaine House to the U.S. Capitol.

Steve Mistler is covering the 2014 governor's race. He covers politics and government for the Portland Press Herald. He spends a lot of time in the hallways of the State House.
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Eric Russell is covering Independent Eliot Cutler during the 2014 governor's race. He is a general assignment reporter for the Portland Press Herald.
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Randy Billings is covering Democrat Mike Michaud during the 2014 governor's race. He covers Portland City Hall for the Portland Press Herald.
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Kevin Miller is covering Maine's U.S. Senate race and 1st Congressional District race. He covers politics and government for the Portland Press Herald.
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Michael Shepherd is covering Maine's 2nd Congressional District race. He is a news and State House reporter for the Kennebec Journal.
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