Tuesday, January 27, 2009

A Green Thumb on the White House lawn

By Chris Olson, Outreach Coordinator

In early October of last year, as the Presidential election was entering is final and most heated stage, Michael Pollen, organic food advocate and author of "The Omnivore's Dilemma" and "In Defense of Food: An Eater's Manifesto", wrote an article for The New York Times Magazine. The article was a letter to the soon to be elected President, whichever candidate that was to be, about the state of our American food system. He gave a number of policy suggestions on ways to move our nation's focus away from corporate, global agribusiness and instead towards healthy, local community farms. His last suggestion in his list was to create the position of White House farmer, much like the White House chef.
"Finally, there is the power of the example you set in the White House," Pollan writes, "If what’s needed is a change of culture in America’s thinking about food, then how America’s first household organizes its eating will set the national tone, focusing the light of public attention on the issue and communicating a simple set of values that can guide Americans toward sun-based foods and away from eating oil... Since enhancing the prestige of farming as an occupation is critical to developing the sun-based regional agriculture we need, the White House should appoint, in addition to a White House chef, a White House farmer. This new post would be charged with implementing what could turn out to be your most symbolically resonant step in building a new American food culture. And that is this: tear out five prime south-facing acres of the White House lawn and plant in their place an organic fruit and vegetable garden."
He goes on to describe how Eleanor Roosevelt's example helped create the Victory Garden movement in 1943, which ended up contributing nearly 40 percent of the nations food during the WWII. That's incredible. People from around the nation agreed with Pollan's suggested change and a website, www.whitehousefarmer.com, was created to help spur the movement. Seventy five farmers from 23 states and the District of Columbia have been nominated in the past few months and anyone who visits the website can read their biographies and vote for who they would like to be the first White House Farmer.

As of today, the leading contenders are Carrie Anne Little and Claire Strader. During my time at the University of Wisonsin-Madison, I did a project where I had to work on an organic farm for a day (I think I even wrote about that experience in my first blog post!). The farm I worked on was Troy Gardens Community Farm and Claire was the farmer who worked with us all day, planting potatoes, picking invasive mustard plants, and giving us a tour of the grounds. I voted for her because of my personal experience working with her. That being said, the other leading nominee is Carrie and she is from Washington state. I don't know her personally but I bet she is a wonderful farmer as well. A number of both Wisconsin and Washington farmers have been nominated. Whether or not you vote for anyone, you should at least check out the website (www.whitehousefarmer.com) and see if you know any of those nominated or read Michael Pollan's article. Hopefully in the coming months we will hear news from DC about the new farmer reshaping the White House lawn!

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