By Sheila Pursglove
Brad Deacon grew up on a small dairy farm in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. He went on to become Emergency Management and Administrative Law Coordinator for the Michigan Department of Agriculture & Rural Development.
He now teaches Agriculture Law at Michigan State University College of Law, and says it’s a great honor to return to his alma mater as an adjunct professor, especially to be developing the first offering of a course.
“The best part has been the high level of interest and engagement by the students,” Deacon says. “This is an exciting time to be teaching Agriculture Law — as the Farm Bill is being discussed and federal food safety laws are being implemented.”
Agriculture Law is an enormously broad area to cover: over the semester, Deacon has discussed the federal Farm Bill including conservation incentives, disaster programs, and crop payments; regulation of livestock facilities, pesticides, and fertilizers; farm worker employment issues, safety and protection; biotechnology; farm credit and commodity sales; and on-farm food safety.
“There are opportunities in agriculture law across all of these areas and many more,” he says.
Deacon took a position in the Office of the Governor in 1995 and served as the Department of Agriculture & Rural Development’s legislative liaison and regulatory affairs officer for six years, where he got to help develop — and in some cases draft — parts of agriculture law.
He has been in his current position since 2004. The Administrative Law side of his job includes overseeing compliance with the Freedom of Information Act, promulgation of rules, and coordination with the Office of the Attorney General; and as Emergency Management Coordinator, he works on the food and agricultural issues relating to homeland security with the private and public sectors.
“One of the major challenges is the scope of these issues,” he says. “There are numerous considerations: animal and plant diseases, food-borne illnesses, use and storage of pesticides and fertilizers, intentional issues like counterfeit, smuggling, and fraud, and then weather events including the severe impacts we’ve already seen this growing season. Coordination requires many partners with a wide range of backgrounds.”
He co-chairs the Michigan Food & Agriculture Protection and Defense Working Group, and represents the Michigan Department of Agriculture & Rural Development on the Homeland Security Advisory Council, Homeland Security Preparedness Committee, Michigan Citizen-Community Emergency Response Coordinating Council, and State Animal Response Team board.
As the son of a township supervisor, Deacon has been around government his whole life.
“At that local level — where the Faithorn Township Supervisor’s office was our dining room — you see the direct relationships among the work that gets done, the expectations of the people, and how limited dollars impact policy,” he says. “At the state level, the scope is bigger but the principles are the same. I’ve been fortunate to hold several different jobs within state government that have all come with the opportunity to impact policy.”
Interested from an early age in geography, world history, and current events, and with a possible career goal of the U.S. State Department or in an international business setting, Deacon chose James Madison College at MSU as an environment to study those topics and more at a very advanced level within the broader setting of a major university.
While the law always interested him, he did not choose to go directly to law school after graduation.
“The turning point was working in state government and seeing the advantage that a law school education can provide in understanding the how and why of policy development,” he says.
Attending the evening program at MSU College of Law while working full time, he was able to tailor some of his law school assignments to do more research and writing on food and agriculture subjects.
“Having a firsthand background in production agriculture definitely provided an excellent frame of reference, whether the subject is a theoretical dispute over the property line between Blackacre and Whiteacre, or a much more practical question about the state testing livestock for disease,” he says.
In his leisure time, Deacon sings in the Lange Ensemble, a Lansing based chorale, as well as at St. Paul’s Episcopal in Lansing; and serves on the MSU College of Arts & Letters Alumni Board, where he was recently elected president. His historic house and garden also fill a lot of time, where last year he started growing hops.
While his roots are in the U.P., and Lansing is now his home, Deacon has also enjoyed traveling in Europe. As an undergrad, he spent eight weeks on a German language study program in Mayen, Germany, and a year at the University of the Saarland in Germany after graduation studying business and economics on a Fulbright grant. While in law school, he took three credits on European Union law in Paris through Tulane Law School.
“I’ve been very fortunate to have been able to do some of my studies overseas — it’s definitely helped me to learn to approach questions from multiple perspectives and to better understand culture and history,” he says. “In Germany, I love the Rhine and Mosel River valleys with the castles and vineyards clinging to the cliffs. In Paris, my favorite spot is the Luxembourg Gardens, an amazing green space oasis.”