Foodies Celebrate White House Veggie Garden

Garden is a victory for organic food fans, despite terrible economy and critics.

ByABC News
March 19, 2009, 9:42 AM

March 20, 2009— -- Bringing fresh food from the farm to the plate for a healthy dinner isn't easy at the end of a busy day, but the Obama family has a plan.

Foodies and environmentalists are thrilled about the Obamas' plans to break ground today on a new White House vegetable garden in their yard.

"A garden like this is one of those small gestures that is powerfully symbolic," Michael Pollan, author of "Omnivores Dilemma" and vocal advocate for agricultural reform, told ABC News.

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"At a time of economic crisis, a garden can provide a surprisingly large amount of fresh, healthy produce," Pollan said. "But just as important, it teaches important habits of mind -- helping people to reconnect with their food, eat more healthily on a budget and recognize that we're less dependent on the industrial food chain, and cheap fossil fuel, than we assume."

Planting and tending to your garden is certainly easier if you live in the White House and have a full-time gardening staff. But busy, working parents with little time and money do not have to resort to fast food, said Tracey Seaman, author of "Real Food for Healthy Kids."

"It's a real challenge because organic stuff is still pricier than the conventional," said Seaman, a single, working mother of two teenagers. "I think parents have to choose what's really important."

Daniel Bowman Simon, who spearheaded the White House Organic Farm Project, insisted a family vegetable garden does not have to be expensive.

"If a family's going to be committed to doing its own gardening, $100 can go a long way," he said.

"In the few months since the election, the economic situation obviously necessitated a lot more people thinking about how are they going to feed themselves," Simon said.

This year, about 43 million U.S. households intend to grow their own fruits, vegetables, berries, and herbs -- up 19 percent from just last year -- according to data from the National Gardening Association. Saving money on bills was the No. 2 reason they gave for digging in.

Michelle Obama has said she wants to make the White House vegetable garden an opportunity to talk about America's diet.

"We want to use it as a point of education, to talk about health and how delicious it is to eat fresh food, and how you can take that food and make it part of a healthy diet," she told Oprah Winfrey in the April issue of O magazine, first reported by food writer Eddie Gehman Kohan. "You know, the tomato that's from your garden tastes very different from one that isn't. And peas -- what is it like to eat peas in season? So we want the White House to be a place of education and awareness. And, hopefully, kids will be interested because there are kids living here [in the White House]."

Simon said Michelle Obama has the leeway to tout issues off the beaten path of the major issues on the administration's agenda.

"If the president got up there and said, 'Today, we're inaugurating a garden,' and said, 'Forget about AIG and all of that,' the talk shows would have a field day," he said. "But the first lady can be whatever change she wants to see."