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Neil Hamilton on short list for agriculture secretary

December 5, 2008
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Neil Hamilton

MEDIA CONTACT: Lisa Lacher, 515-202-1773, lisa.lacher@drake.edu

Neil Hamilton, the Dwight D. Opperman chair of law and director of the Agricultural Law Center at Drake University, has been suggested as a "sustainable choice for the next U.S. Secretary of Agriculture."

Hamilton is among six top picks for the cabinet position recommended by nearly 90 notable figures in the world of sustainable agriculture and food who signed a letter sent to the Obama transition team earlier this week. The letter is posted on the New York Times Web site

The letter was mentioned Thursday in the New York Times Blog on Dining Out, which noted that "The hope is that the new secretary will be less aligned with industrial agribusiness and commodity farming than secretaries past. And if he or she embraces the connection between food health and the environment, well, that's all the better." 

"I'm honored to be considered, although I'm not looking for a job. In fact, I have one of the best jobs in the world," Hamilton said. "I've had no official inquiries from the transition team, but I certainly would welcome the opportunity to serve the Obama administration in any way that I could."

Professor Hamilton is one the nation's leading authorities on the role of law in shaping agriculture and the food system. He frequently writes opinion pieces on agricultural and environmental issues for The Des Moines Register.

His most recent op-ed, published Dec. 1, urges President-elect Obama to launch a New Farmer Corps and set a 10-year goal of establishing 500,000 new farms in the United States.

"Neil has done great work here in Iowa and nationally -- he's very well respected," said Dave Murphy of Clear Lake, Iowa, a writer, consultant and advocate of sustainable agriculture who helped organize the letter to the Obama transition team.

"We were impressed with his editorial on the New Farmer Corps," he added. "We want a secretary of agriculture who has that type of vision and understands the problems modern agriculture faces."

Murphy said the Obama transition team has responded to the letter by scheduling a conference call for Monday with several of the signers of the letter. Supporters of sustainable agriculture may sign on to the letter and register their support for the "sustainable" candidates for agriculture secretary by visiting the Food Democracy Now website.



Hamilton involved in farming, slow food movement

Hamilton was raised on a family farm in Adams County, Iowa, and he and his wife, Khanh, raise vegetables for sale to local restaurants on their garden market farm, Sunstead, near Waukee, Iowa. He is founder and leader of the Slow Food Des Moines chapter.

He has lectured throughout the United States and in 20 other countries. He has taught agricultural law for 28 years and has written several books on food and agricultural law issues. Last spring, he taught one of the nation's first classes on wind law and last month he conducted a forum for Iowa lawyers on drafting and negotiating wind rights agreements.

Hamilton recently completed 21 years on the advisory board of the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture at Iowa State University. He is the board chair of the Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation and chaired the Iowa Food Policy Council. He is former president of the American Agricultural Law Association and former co-chair of the U.S. Department of Agriculture Small Farms Advisory Committee. He also serves on the U.S. Department of Agriculture Farmers Market Consortium.

In addition, Hamilton serves on the boards of the National Gardening Association and the Seed Savers Exchange and was formerly a member of the board of the Farmer's Legal Action Group. He has been a consultant for many international organizations, including the United Nations Development Program in China, the World Bank and the International Potato Research Center in Lima, Peru.