10 Jan 2011 - Secretary Sez

Every week in this column I express my personal opinions, prejudices and biases, not expecting agreement, but hoping to stimulate thought and discussion on the subject. The one exception comes at the end of the year when I sit down in the office of the Secretary of Agriculture and re-title the segment ‘Secretary Sez’. I now share this year’s thoughts from Secretary Tom Vilsack.

“Well, I just want to extend a Happy New Year to the 900,000 folks I talked about earlier; the farm families of this country, the folks who produce our food, our fiber and our fuel. I think they are one of the most underappreciated segments in America. These are folks who give every one of us, as consumers, a tremendous advantage. We go into our grocery stores and we leave them with more of our paycheck in our pocket than anywhere else in the world.

“That allows us to buy better cars and bigger homes and take vacations and put money aside for our child’s college education or our retirement. We need to thank farmers for the advantages that they provide through their hard work, their effort, the risks that they take. We also need to understand and appreciate that we have the greatest abundance, the most fabulous choice of food products of any people in the world.

“My heart goes out to those folks every day who wake up very early in the morning, who put themselves at risk, who put their financial well-being at risk every single day, to make sure that my family is well fed.
I hope the folks who are reading this today who are not farmers, will take time through 2011, just to thank a farmer, for providing us with the food, the fiber, the fuel and a little extra cash.”

I then asked Secretary Vilsack the question that I have asked every Secretary for the 35 years I’ve been doing these year-end interviews... are you still having fun? He responded “This is the second time this week I have been asked that question, the last time was by the President of the United States. He asked me if I was having a good time and if I enjoyed this job. I said ‘Mr. President, I have the best job in America’. Then I realized maybe that was not the right thing to say to the President, so I said maybe you have the best job. He said ‘Oh, no, no, no. You may have the best job.’ So, this is an extraordinary honor. Every day I wake up thanking God, thanking the President, thanking this country for this opportunity. Sixty years ago I started life in a Catholic orphanage and on my 60th birthday I was in the White House where the President and Vice-President were singing Happy Birthday to me. Is this a great country or what?”

Those were the thoughts Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack shared with me in his office just a few days before Christmas. And I thank him for this annual presentation of the Secretary Sez.