[by Jay Mattsson]
Today in the final segment of BFIA’s exclusive interview with Francis Thicke, the candidate discusses slander campaigns, sustainable farming systems, President Obama, and more.
Click here to read Part I Part II Part III
BFIA: You do public speaking engagements around the state. What contact have you had with organizations promoting organic produce?
Thicke: There are a lot of organizations working on organic and local food systems. For example, the Practical Farmers of Iowa (PFI) began as a group to help support farmers who wanted to experiment with innovative and more sustainable farming practices. PFI has grown into a large and diverse group of farmers, researchers and consumers who cooperate in order to learn from each other. PFI sponsors an annual educational conference.
There’s also an Iowa Organic Farming Conference sponsored by Iowa State University each fall. I’ve had the opportunity to speak at these conferences and learn from other presenters as well.
BFIA: Is that something what would be required of the Ag Secretary — to speak at different conferences?
Thicke: The Iowa Secretary of Agriculture is very often invited to speak at agricultural conferences held in Iowa. I see that as a major role of the Iowa Secretary of Agriculture: to articulate a vision for the future of Iowa agriculture, and to provide leadership to help move Iowa agriculture towards that vision.
BFIA: How often do you speak at different conferences and meetings?
Thicke: It seems like nearly once a week, or perhaps every couple of weeks, I have the opportunity to speak at a conference or other educational event.
BFIA: A while back you spoke at the Johnson County Democratic Party fundraiser. Can you tell us about that?
Thicke: As a Democratic candidate for Iowa Secretary of Agriculture I have many opportunities to speak at events sponsored by county Democratic central committees. The audiences for these meetings are generally made up of party organizers and community leaders. These meetings have provided good opportunities for me to present my positions on issues facing Iowa agriculture and get feedback from audience members.
BFIA: Speaking of Democratic candidates, the last Democratic candidate to run for Secretary of Agriculture in Iowa was Denise O’Brien, and I see that she endorsed your campaign.
Thicke: Denise and I have been friends for many years. When Denise ran in 2006, I had also been thinking about running. She called me up one night and we talked about it, and I agreed that she should run and I would support her. She nearly won the election, and probably would have if it hadn’t been for the last-minute slander campaign that was launched against her. This time, Denise has agreed to support me in whatever way she can.
BFIA: I saw you at different Democratic events — the 2nd District convention and the state convention. Tell us about your experience with the Democratic Party here in Iowa.
Thicke: In my experience in the past, working with the Iowa Legislature, I have met a number of leaders of the Democratic Party. I’m now getting to know more Democratic Party leaders and office holders around the state as I travel the campaign trail. That gives me the opportunity to hear their views on issues facing Iowa.
BFIA: Over the years, I’ve heard that some nationally-known candidates and Democratic leaders have taken tours of your dairy farm.
Thicke: We’ve had lots of visitors over the years. We frequently have classes tour our dairy, everything from kindergarten up through graduate school. We’ve had many international visitors as well. For example, we’ve had two delegations from the World Bank come to see our farm as part of their tour-study of sustainable farming systems. We’ve also had two presidential candidates come to our farm. In the fall of 2007, Joe Biden — who was a candidate for president at that time — came for a tour of our farm. I spent an hour and a half showing him the farm and discussing ag policy with him.
BFIA: What other ag policies would you like to see in Iowa?
Thicke: One thing I didn’t mention was a law that was recently passed in Illinois that sets goals for more of the food eaten in Illinois to be produced in Illinois. They are starting with state-owned institutions, like hospitals and universities. One goal of the new Illinois law is to have 20% of the food purchased by state-owned institutions be grown in Illinois by 2020. That is an interesting model of how to increase local food production, which translates into economic development. We could do something similar in Iowa.
BFIA: Tell us about how well you know former State Representative John Whittaker and talk about his new position in the federal government.
Thicke: I’ve known John for many years. He was State Representative for my district, but he is also a farmer. Recently he was appointed as the Iowa head of USDA’s Farm Service Agency. I have always been impressed by how much John knows about agriculture and the environment. Recently I saw John at a State Technical Committee meeting, where he came to represent the Farm Service Agency. It was interesting to see him in that new capacity. I am sure he will do an excellent job in heading up the agency.
BFIA: What public figures in America really inspire you?
Thicke: I am very inspired by President Barack Obama, not only in that he is a brilliant man and great speaker, but by the way he handled himself during the election. I see that as a model. He was often attacked and criticized unfairly, and he would simply answer the attack, and show how it was unfounded, and then he would take it to a higher level.
That’s what I would like to do in my campaign. I’ve already been attacked by the opposing party, and if the last election is any kind of a model — they pulled out a tremendous slander campaign against the last Democratic candidate for Iowa Secretary of Agriculture — I should expect more of the same. So, I’m looking to Barack Obama as a model for how to answer these kinds of lie-and-slander campaigns that will likely come down the road, if the past is any predictor of the future.
We have some major challenges ahead for Iowa agriculture. One is the escalating price of oil — that is going to have a tremendous effect on Iowa agriculture in the future. Another challenge is the effect of climate change, in particular, extreme weather events such as heavy rainfall, floods, and drought. Climatologists tell us to expect more of these extreme weather events.
But, we also have some tremendous opportunities on the horizon that we can take advantage of to help us meet coming challenges. What we need is a new vision and new leadership to meet these challenges and take advantage of emerging opportunities.
That is why I’m interested in running for Iowa Secretary of Agriculture, to have a dialogue with Iowans about these challenges and opportunities in order to create a more resilient, profitable and sustainable agriculture in Iowa.~
Mattsson, previously a Minneapolis school teacher, stayed in Iowa after
getting his MA in Professional Writing. He had experience hosting an
interview show on the radio every week for 18 months and worked as a
book editor, associate producer and freelance writer/editor before
joining a full-service audio-production company in 1998. Active in
Democratic politics, Jay was a member of the Statewide Leadership
Committee on the Obama for President Campaign.~
Visit the candidate’s website thickeforagriculture.com