Way back in August 2006, I wrote a column arguing that farmers in northern areas could grow a lot more vegetables in the winter, if the USDA would invest in research and infrastructure for it. I wrote:

If we wanted to make that vision come true for the nation’s northern climes, all it would take is research tailored to particular regions and investment capital. According to the Union of Concerned Scientists, the USDA spews out $1.5 billion per year for conventional-ag research and extension. Its excellent Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education program, by contrast, draws just $14 million. The research money is there; all we lack is the political clout.

That was written in the depths of the Bush years, when a former corn-industry functionary ran the USDA’s day-to-day operations.

Grist thanks its sponsors. Become one.

Things have undeniably changed. I can’t say much for USDA chief Tom Vilsack’s performance in Copenhagen viz. climate change–or his associations with the biotech industry. But back here in the United States, his deputy secretary, Kathleen Merrigan, is showing her commitment to shovel-ready, appropriate-scale tools farmers can use to make local and regional food systems less energy-dependent and more resilient. (Via Jane Black.)