Reader Timothy sent a comment that poses a thoughtful question: even though the White House vegetable garden is a good thing, is it being done in a way that sets a good example? Timothy supports the concept of square-foot gardening, where plants are grown closely together and managed intensively. By crowding the plants, they shade out weeds, waste less water, and provide a bigger bounty in smaller space.
I’m a square foot gardener, so I agree with him – this is an environmentally friendly way to garden. Sure, raised beds in Colorado use a bit more water – they heat up early, lose water quickly – but with mulch, soaker hoses, and a water timer, you will dramatically reduce the water you put on the garden, and it isn’t lost to evaporation.
But back to the question – how does the White House garden stack up? They’re putting in raised beds – this is part of the press relase – and they’re going to manage the plot with organic methods (“plot” is used loosely here – 1,100 square feet is a mini farm). But we don’t know if they’ll be square-foot planting. Also, looking at the plan, it isn’t clear if the entire garden is in raised beds, or just a few.
And they may use organic methods, but Timothy’s right – since the USDA owns the term “Organic” and has strict guidelines on standards that must be met before you can claim your food is organic….well, perhaps the White House isn’t aware that you can’t claim this unless you’re certified. And what a process certification is – the least of which is the meticulous record keeping, and the cost to growers for certification is shamefully high (seriously – perhaps the White House should go for certification, then they’ll see first hand what an unfair burden the cost is).
Those are Timothy’s concerns.
Here are mine: first, this is a beginner’s vegetable garden. Michelle Obama admits she’s never grown anything. The sheer size of what they’re putting in is a rookie mistake: it’s beyond huge and will take an army to tend. Those of us without the benefit of staff have to keep our gardens manageable. Still, for this to be more than a token effort it needed to be big, and I’m happy they’re doing it.
Second: take a gander at the outfit she wore to begin the installation. I’m all for our First Lady looking good – dear heavens she’s a beautiful woman and has an image to uphold. But the bar this sets for a gardener like me is unattainable. I don’t wear Gucci to garden – I wear mismatched socks, old, baggy shorts, and T-shirt that is stained with years of plant sap. At any moment I will have twigs and leaves clinging to my hair.
Glance at my hands. I don’t sport French nails, I sport scratches, callouses, and rough skin. This comes from not wearing gloves, something the First Lady and I have in common. But I don’t have to greet visiting dignitaries, where shaking hands that feel like rubbing sandpaper can spoil the goodwill. If she’ll take a bit of advice, she’ll get good gloves. May I recommend West County? They have a new glove out made from recycled plastic water bottles.
As an entomologist, I’m ecstatic that they’ve brought in beehives. This will help pollinate the produce and provide first hand experience in caring for something that isn’t a human-based life form. More people need to learn the value of insects and spiders.
Finally, the beet issue. I predicted a mini-scandal, a la broccoligate, and sure enough, it’s in full swing. Check out the blog chatter at the NYT – it’s a scream. Everyone I’ve polled on this has a different point, and I guess we should cut the President some slack. After all, he deals with the good, the bad, and the ugly everyday; at least he should decide what’s on his plate. But Mr. President, won’t you give beet tops a chance?
What do you think, readers?