Downtown Factories, Food Stamps and Hiking Trails — How the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Affects L.A.

President-elect Donald Trump has chosen former governor of Georgia Sonny Perdue as his pick for secretary of agriculture. This completes Trump's cabinet selection, provided Perdue is confirmed by Senate.

Urban dwellers often hear the word "agriculture" and tune out, but the position has trackable effects on cities, especially cities with a high number of manufacturing jobs. And sizable low-income populations. And with U.S. Forest Service land. In other words, Los Angeles should pay attention to the Department of Agriculture and its secretary.

One of Perdue's most notable bills was signed in 2010, when he declared April to be Georgia's "Confederate History and Heritage Month."

But his most talked-about act as Georgia governor was leading a prayer circle on the steps of the Georgia capitol in 2007 to ask God for rain. "I'm here today to appeal to you and to all Georgians and all people who believe in the power of prayer to ask God to shower our state, our region, our nation with the blessings of water," Perdue said at the event.

It didn't "work," by any tangible measure; the drought lasted another two years.

Perdue's new duties will cover a wide range of government services, including the U.S. Forest Service, under whose jurisdiction Angeles National Forest falls. ANF contains watersheds that provide water to the city of L.A.; those must be managed and, on occasion, prevented from causing floods.

In the food world, the USDA oversees "food stamps," which in California are part of the CalFresh program. Between governing that and the school lunch program, the USDA has a lot of say in the daily lives of many Los Angeles residents and students.

Perdue also will be in a position to allocate subsidies and funding to farmers and specific crops. California's cotton production industry grows about 95% of the country's Pima cotton, the type used in high-end apparel, especially denim. But the drought has led to a decrease in successful cotton crops, with about 26% fewer acres devoted to growing it than in years past. This affects downtown L.A.'s apparel industry, the largest in the United States. Less cotton means less material to work, which means fewer people needed in the factories.

And unemployment due to drought can lead to increased use of services like CalFresh and reduced-price lunches. If confirmed, Perdue will be leading an agency that's always in danger of getting caught in an endless cause-and-effect loop.  

Prayer might not cut it anymore.


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