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Merrigan wins James Beard leadership award

2012_1017_JasBeardWinners

Winners of the James Beard Foundation Leadership Award pose together before the awards dinner Wednesday evening at the Hearst Tower in New York City. From left: Detroit Black Community Food Security Network Executive Director Malik Yanini, writer Wendell Berry, Rainforest Alliance President Tessie Whelan, James Beard Foundation President Susan Ungaro, Agriculture Deputy Secretary Kathleen Merrigan and World Wildlife Fund Executive Director Jason Clay. (Eddie Gehman Kohan/Obama Foodorama).

NEW YORK CITY — The James Beard Foundation on Wednesday evening presented one of its leadership awards to Agriculture Deputy Secretary Kathleen Merrigan.

At a dinner in the Hearst Tower, the foundation named after the late chef and food writer also presented awards for food and sustainable agriculture advocacy to writer and farmer Wendell Berry, World Wildlife Fund Senior Vice President Jason Clay, Rainforest Alliance President Tensie Whelan and Detroit Black Community Food Security Network Executive Director Malik Yanini.

In presenting the award to Merrigan, Debra Eschmeyer, founder of Food Corps and the Farm to School Network, praised the deputy secretary for her long advocacy of sustainable local and organic agricultural production.

But Eschmeyer also noted that before Merrigan joined USDA, she taught at Tufts University where she had a following of students.

“There are Merriganistas everywhere,” Eschmeyer said.

Merrigan said she became interested in agriculture as a child when her family moved into a house in western Massachusetts next to a farm, but that her current challenge is developing the next generation of farmers. She said her inspiration was the poem by William Carlos Williams, “The Red Wheelbarrow:”

So much depends
upon
a red wheel
barrow
glazed with rain
water
beside the white
chickens.