Getting Dirty at the White House

By Vicki Mabrey

Mar 20, 2009 1:27pm

First Lady Michelle Obama is getting her hands dirty — and I applaud her for it.  In overseeing the  planting of a vegetable garden at the White House today, the First Gardener is setting an example.  Like many commenters posting to the wonderfully comprehensive article on, written by Kate Barrett and Brian Hartman, I don’t think she’ll be out in the garden of an evening, tilling, weeding, and composting.  Nor should she — there are many other projects that need her attention.  But she’s gotten the nation talking about kitchen gardens, Victory Gardens, whatever the modern-day incarnation is.

I have often marvelled at the amount of time we spend on our lawns — cutting, edging, fertilizing, seeding, weeding — endless amounts of energy for our big broad lawns, and for what?  They look good, but they give nothing tangible back.  You can’t eat ‘em, can’t share the bounty with your friends and family.  Why not put some of that time and effort into a vegetable garden and be rewarded for your hard work?   There are many who already have, as Brian Rooney showed us in his Nightline piece from February 26th in Los Angeles, and I suspect a movement will be in full bloom now. 

My cousin in St Louis is helping a needy family with six children, and I just suggested to her that one of the greatest things she could do for them is help them plant a vegetable garden.  Last weekend, they moved to a new rental in the city — a house with a lawn! — so how perfect would it be if they took up part of that grass and planted some of the fresh foods they otherwise could not afford?  It will also teach young city kids some important lessons, not least of which is that instead of feeling helpless and hopeless, they do have control over some aspects of their lives. 

So kudos to Mrs. Obama for taking the lead in this.  Alice Waters has been encouraging backyard and school gardens for years… Michael Pollan has been leading the charge, and countless Americans have been quietly toiling away on their "shovel ready" projects every spring.  They know the joy of picking and eating their own spinach, carrots, beets, zucchini, and yes, the ubiquitous (and fantastically flavorful) tomato.  I only wish I could join them, but with no outdoor space at my apartment in New York City, I’m limited to little bits of rosemary and basil grown in pots on the kitchen windowsill.  How many of you with backyards and grass and sunshine will follow the White House lead??   

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