PHARR – Texas Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller had a busy day in the Rio Grande Valley.
To begin with, Miller was sworn into his second term of office by Texas Supreme Court Justice Eva Guzman at the Pharr International Bridge during a PSJA FFA meeting.
“We wanted to come down here and do something a little different than being in Austin,” Miller said after he took his oath of office. “In fact, this is the first time anyone does something like this outside of the capitol.”
Oath of Office
Miller chose to take his oath of office at the Pharr International Bridge to highlight the importance to the region to agriculture, trade and national security. During his first term he and Tamaulipas Governor Francisco Javier Cabeza de Vaca held a friendship summit on the international bridge in Laredo to highlight the importance of trade between not only two countries but also two states.
The setting of his ceremony has evolved into the largest land port in the nation for fruits and vegetables, crossing 60 percent of all the fresh produce from Mexico through Texas.
Miller is in charge of a $6 billion budget, which is more than what 12 United State Governors manage. While Miller has been in office he said many of his initial goals were accomplished like the Farm Fresh initiative where school districts can purchase produce from local farmers. Roughly half the school districts in the state participate in the program. The TDA is updating the export facilities for livestock in Laredo, Del Rio and the construction of a new airport in Houston. The Go Texan marketing program has doubled in membership since Miller has been in office.
First Official Act
Then in his first official act as commissioner, Miller introduced McAllen school district student Pablo Ramirez as an inaugural member of the Texas Department of Agriculture (TDA) Health Ambassadors for Ready Texas (HART).
The work Ramirez is doing at McAllen school district as a student falls in line with Miller's philosophy of management from the bottom up.
“For a school to have a successful nutrition program you start with the students,” Miller said. “We are getting involved at a local level with teachers and more importantly parents to be involved as well.”
Ramirez will be tasked to help solve barriers to child nutrition programs throughout the TDA and the region.
The sophomore at Lamar IB Academy has carried this interest for some time, including opening The Energy Bar, a food pantry where students are offered a free resource to ward off food insecurity. In Texas, 25 percent of children are food insecure, in the Rio Grande Valley that number is one-in-two.
Farm to Table
When Miller began his first term as Ag Commissioner there were many mandates that hindered schools from being successful in child nutrition.
“They basically couldn't do anything but feed kale and cardboard to our kids,” he said.
There has been a difference as the numbers show students are returning to lunch room. There is also a surge in school districts voluntarily partnering with the TDA.
Currently with half of the school districts participating in his Farm Fresh initiative, farmers are making $10 million annually and within four years there is hope all school districts will participate in the initiative and revenue will double as well.
Aside from the revenue the farmers receive, the food is not processed in places like California with a bunch of preservatives and salts which brings the quality of nutrition above par.
“When you get the fresh product out kids come to eat and it does not have junk in it,” Miller said. “It is healthier, more nutritious, the vitamins and mineral are higher.”
Miller is an eighth generation Texas farmer and rancher and a ten-time world champion rodeo cowboy. He is the 12th Commissioner of the Texas Department of Agriculture.