I think I am qualified to say that my friend Senator McGovern would have liked the George McGovern Lecture delivered last week in Rome by former Deputy Secretary of Agriculture Kathleen Merrigan. The lecture named for the former South Dakota senator is an annual event for the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization in Rome. The UN food agencies in Rome grew out of President John F. Kennedy’s original “Food for Peace” program that began a half-century ago. Although Merrigan’s time as deputy secretary of agriculture was about normal, her departure seemed unexpected and premature. That’s because her leadership and accomplishments for organic and local agriculture were unique. Merrigan was that rare person who left government with more to say. That’s what made U.S. Ambassador David Lane’s choice of Merrigan to deliver this year’s McGovern lecture an inspired choice. And Merrigan delivered. Some people think that organic and local food should be given a break when it comes to food safety, but she made it clear in Rome that while government’s role can vary for the size and scale of the farm, not so when it comes to food safety. Merrigan told the audience that American agriculture is more diverse than commodity production. She pointed to more organic, young, Latino, and women farmers reported by the new Census of Agriculture. As the one who brought us both the USDA organic standards and the “Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food” initiatives, Merrigan said there is “huge overlap,” but she added that, “Not all organic is local and not all local is organic.” Merrigan also made news during the Q&A session when she said that her definition of diversity in agriculture includes genetic modification. She said she does not want young people to be “anti-technology or anti-science.” The title of her lecture was, “Local Produce, Local Markets: Fostering Regional Agricultural Systems.” It has not yet been posted on the site of the U.S. Mission to the UN food agencies in Rome, but it will likely be there soon. The McGovern Lecture owes its existence, ironically, to what some say was one of the worst speeches ever given on agricultural policy. McGovern liked telling the story. Both Vice President Richard Nixon and Senator John Kennedy accepted invitations to appear at the National Corn Picking contest near Sioux Falls, SD, in October 1960. On separate days, South Dakota GOP Senator Karl Mundt introduced the vice president, and then-Congressman McGovern introduced Kennedy. Mundt and Nixon were both viewed as experts on the farm policies of the day. By contrast, McGovern used to say that Kennedy knew just a tiny bit about Massachusetts cranberries. On the GOP day, the sun was shining and the crowds were massive. The audience from as many as 10 states numbered around 70,000 for Nixon. But on the day Kennedy took the stage, the weather had turned mean. The wind was picking up, the temperature was dropping quickly, and skies were darkening. Kennedy would deliver his speech in a cold, dripping rain. Worse, the speech was written by some policy wonk, and it was clear to anyone that the young Massachusetts senator did not understand what was coming out of his mouth. He knew, too. Afterward, he immediately apologized to McGovern because he was certain that his bungled agricultural speech would lead to McGovern losing South Dakota’s U.S. Senate race. McGovern was taking Kennedy next to the Corn Palace in Mitchell, SD, to address another large farm audience. He told Kennedy to throw away the prepared speech from the ag policy experts and to instead speak from the heart. He told Kennedy to just say that Secretary of Agriculture Ezra Taft Benson says farm surpluses are a problem and that’s the wrong approach. McGovern persuaded Kennedy to say that the abundance of American agriculture is “a great national treasure.” The theme of JFK’s Corn Palace speech was that, “Food is health, food is strength, and food is peace.” Then he promised that, if elected president of the United States, he’d create a Food for Peace Office in the White House to use farm surpluses to reduced world hunger. JFK’s fear about McGovern losing that 1960 U.S. Senate race to Karl Mundt was correct. He went down by about 15,000 votes, but he moved into a White House office as the first director of the Food for Peace Program.