Tuesday, March 11, 2014
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.
Open Season targets all of Maine's political wildlife, from Portland city government to the donkeys, elephants and independents stalking the Statehouse and U.S. Capitol.
John Richardson joined the Press Herald in 1990 after working as a reporter in New Jersey. He has covered a variety of beats, including marine issues, the environment and health care. He is now covering politics and focusing on Maine's U.S. Senate race.
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On Twitter: @jrichmaine
Colin Woodard has covered politics and elections for more than two decades, from Bosnia and Bucharest to Washington, D.C., Augusta, and Portland City Hall. He has written for a wide range of national and international publications and is the author of four books, including "American Nations," a history of North America's regional cultures. He joined the Portland Press Herald at the end of April and covers political finance and lobbying, among other things.
Colin can be reached at 791-6317 or email@example.com
Susan Cover has covered Maine politics for 10 years and worked in Kansas, Ohio and Rhode Island as a reporter. This year, she is focusing on covering the same-sex marriage debate for MaineToday Media.
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Michael Shepherd joined MaineToday Media in May 2012 after graduating from the University of Maine in Orono, where he edited The Maine Campus, the student newspaper there. Until November he'll be writing the Truth Test, a recurring feature analyzing political statements and advertising.
Michael can be reached at 621-5632 or email@example.com