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There is something tangibly rewarding when after have put your hands in warm soil, planting for your own table, to being able to harvest bounty from the soil.
Along with millions, tens of millions of others, my own gardening experience is reflected in a larger plot and on a much bigger stage as First Lady Michelle Obama pursues organic gardening on the White House lawn with the assistance of many, including students from a DC elementary school.
While there has been some 80 lbs harvested to date, some for White House meals but most for local food kitchens, yesterday The First Lady celebrated the end of the school year with Bancroft Elementary students with harvesting from the garden and eating an organic salad. And, they all literally had the fruits of their labors as “once kids finished their salads, they were rewarded with a cupcake topped with fresh garden berries”.
While it might be fun to get one’s hands dirty, rewarding to see the ‘fruits of one’s labor’ on the plate before you, and tasty to eat this fresh, pesticide-free food, this connects to larger issues.
As Michelle Obama explained,
I also thought that this would be a fun and interesting way to talk to kids about healthy eating and nutrition. The President and Congress are going to begin to address health care reform, and these issues of nutrition and wellness and preventative care is going to be the focus of a lot of conversation coming up in the weeks and months to come. And these are issues that I care deeply about, especially when they affect America’s children.
Obesity, diabetes, heart disease, high-blood pressure are all diet-related health issues that cost this country more than $120 billion each year. That’s a lot of money. While the dollar figure is shocking in and of itself, the effect on our children’s health is even more profound. Nearly a third of the children in this country are either overweight or obese, and a third will suffer from diabetes at some point in their lifetime. In Hispanic and African American communities, those numbers climb even higher so that nearly half of the children in those communities will suffer the same fate. Those numbers are unacceptable.
The First Lady is right. “Those numbers are unacceptable.” And, improving the quality of food (whether from one’s own garden or through a better, more nutritious, less-industrial agriculture driven school lunch program) is an important part of turning those numbers around.
Gardening is booming in the United States. For some, it makes the perfect chance to use the eco-friendly railway sleepers they’ve had to hand for the space. For others it is because of concerns over industrial agriculture and food contamination, and the poor state of the economy … but also because of the First Lady’s example.
When she acts, people watch … and imitate. When she speaks, people listen … and think.
Michelle Obama is right to link her gardening to a larger issue, to link healthy food with healthy people, to link her opportunity for her daughters to others’ lack of opportunity and gaps. Yet, in her conversations and talks about this garden, she is missing another very serious linkage. While it won’t solve the problem, growing one’s own food (some of it) also contributes to tackling other very serious challenges: peak oil and climate change. By growing some of our own food, whether a tomato plant in a window or a suburban yard totally given over to food (for oneself and the community), such efforts help reduce energy demands to produce and transport food, helping cut into America’s oil dependency while also reducing pollution levels. If there are five million new gardeners due to Michelle’s efforts, each producing 20 pounds of their own food this year, how much will the “Business As Usual” case of pollution and energy use fall due to that 100 million pounds (50,000 tons) of food production? This isn’t a ‘change the game’ impact, not the Silver Bullet that changes the planet, but it is a bit of Silver Dust that, if a trend continued and expanded, would be a meaningful contributor to turning the tide on Global Warming’s rising seas. Just as occurred during World War II, it is time for Victory Gardens to sprout up around America. Gardens to help achieve victory over our oil dependency, victory in our struggle against climate change.