Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack made his way to Indiana last week, announcing two national conservation-related programs that will help repair damage from the flood of a year ago, and protect against future flooding, in Terre Haute. Roughly a hundred people gathered with him near the Seventh Street bridge over Honey Creek on the south side of Tere Haute. And landowners Don and Judy Osborne came up from southwest Indiana to meet him. Their land will be part of the flood easement program he announced at the same time.
That afternoon he held a public forum at the Hendricks County Fairgrounds in Danville. That seems appropriate- get feedback, even if it is in the heart of a somewhat urbanized county. It was also held at a state-of-the-art county fairgrounds built just a couple of years ago.
But why did the Secretary visit the National FFA Center in Indianapolis on the same trip? If it was to promote education and the need for not only continuing but improving ag education programs, the basis for the FFA, that would have made sense. Instead, he used the visit to talk about the automobile industry and its current crisis of all things. Why talk about cars at the National FFA Center? Why was the Secretary of Agriculture talking about cars and the car industry at all? USDA is so broad it's unwieldy at times, but talking about cars is a stretch even for the head of an agency that diversified.
Dave Russell, a farm broadcaster in Indiana, joked he was going to that stop just to find out the connection. It was the question the farm press wanted to know most amongst those gathered for the conservation announcements earlier in the day in Terre Haute.
A few days after the fact, the purpose of the stop at the National FFA Center is still unclear, at least to some who attended it. Indiana State FFA president Laura Ann Donaldson, originally from Newton County, introduced Baron Hill, the Congressman who introduced Vilsack. By the way, what was Hill ding there? Northwest Marion County is certainly not in his district.
After the introduction by the state FFA president, reports funneled to us claim he never mentioned the FFA, or gave any explanation for why that site was picked. After a vague reference to rural people through a beginning story, his comments weren't directed toward agriculture, rural Indiana, or rural America.
So why was he there? Perhaps only the politicians know. One source speculated Cabinet members were asked to carry a message last week, and they complied. That theory is bolstered by the fact that several Cabinet members were out and about last week, including the Secretary of Energy, who visited Fort Wayne. It just happens to be home to a GM truck assembly plant.
What a shame the Secretary of Ag didn't include more about FFA in his comments. What an opportunity wasted to pay homage to one of the greatest leadership development organizations anywhere in the world. After all, couldn't America use good leaders in the future?