Thursday, Apr. 29, 2010

Kathleen Merrigan

Meeting Kathleen Merrigan for the first time can be confusing. You think you know her: Massachusetts native, child of the '70s, professor's daughter. You think: flower power, foodie, radical. She wants a community garden in every neighborhood, doesn't she? She does. Supports farmers' markets and local food? Check. She practically wrote the book on organic. (Actually, she did. See the 1990 Organic Foods Production Act.)

And though her charge as Deputy Secretary of the U.S. Department of Agriculture is to represent all factions — whatever decision she's making, as one Washington insider told me, she "walks between raindrops" — you think, She's one of us.

Then you learn that she supports conventional farmers, refuses to vilify biotech and relishes above all else a good steak. "I displease pleasingly," she'll say, and you respect her all the more.

If you've ever wondered who in government shoulders the complexities of moving an agenda forward in a fractured time and pushes on without getting soaked, here is your answer.

Barber is chef-owner of Blue Hill, a New York restaurant devoted to sustainable food

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