Again, I’m heartened to see media attention alight on the USDA, which until not long ago interested big-ag lobbyists, large-scale grain and cotton farmers, anti-hunger activists, and few others. The latest evidence: The New York Times editorial page has seen fit to comment on Obama’s choice of Tom Vilsack as USDA chief.

"The department he will inherit, while responsible for extraordinary gains in research and productivity, has long favored the biggest farmers," the editorial states. "That has produced a sterile landscape of factory farms, broken towns and endless miles of row crops like corn and soybeans."

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It adds: "He’ll need it to move this country’s broken agricultural policy in a new direction." One aspect of that: "He also must take an impartial look at corn ethanol."

Whatever we may think of our incoming USDA chief, he is operating in a new paradigm: one in which people outside of the usual circle, including those within major-media forums, are watching, and demanding real change.

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