Local Picks for White House “Farmer”



It’s amazing the attention a little website can get, and I’m speaking of course of White House Farmer.com, where people across the country have been voting for their choice for “White House Farmer.”  Over 100 farmers were nominated and 56,000 votes were cast in just 10 days, which I think speaks to the popularity of the very cool idea of food being grown again at the White House.

The top three vote-getters are all women – gardeners at a community farm in Madison, WI, an 8-acre organic farm in Puyallup, WA, and a provider of home farming services in Davis, CA. In fourth place is the top male vote-getter, Will Allen.  Of course I want ALL the nominees to win something – recognition, kudos for their good work, more funding for their projects.  And how about a shout-out to the Brachman family (in S. Illinois, not Iowa as I previously wrote), whose White House Farmer website and make-believe election have brought even more attention to this idea whose time has come – on the heels of campaigning by Alice Waters, Michael Pollan, Roger Doiron and the WHO Farm guys.  The success of all these crusaders in raising awareness, drumming up excitement for the First Family raising food and getting this idea ALL OVER THE MEDIA has been phenomenal.

But as a D.C. local, with almost four decades inside the notorious Beltway, I proHarvest340pose a different contest altogether, and urge a different tactic for growing food at the White House:

  • Instead of a large farm, why not a small kitchen garden, just right for a family of four and their friends. No big deal to install and maintain, no big security hassles, and lots of potential for showing Americans what they, too, can do with very little money or time.  Unlike the 5-acre farm imagined by Pollan and others, it wouldn’t compete with local farmers.  And of course it would be beautiful. 


    • As kitchen gardener, whose services would only be needed a few hours every week, I suggest someone who not only knows how to grow vegetables but who also has experience teaching KIDS to grow them.  I’m not alone in suggesting that someone affiliated with the Youth Garden of the National Arboretum would be great for this part-time job (also not alone in thinking of a particular young woman who’s a total delight and loved by kids.)  Oh, and is it TOO obvious to suggest that someone who knows veg-growing here in the Mid-Atlantic Humidity Belt might be better suited than those fine candidates from other climates?



  • I also propose a White House kitchen garden adviser, and a very particular person to fill that role – Cindy Brown.  She’s been the number one teacher of food-growing in the Washington, D.C. area for years now.  She spoke to the crowd at the Fourth Annual Washington Seed Exchange and floored even the geekiest of plant geeks with her knowledge of how the various vegetable varieties performs right here. That kind of knowledge you can only gain from growing for decades in one spot and trying every single variety there is.  Veg varieties mean absolutely nothing to me, but what bowled ME over was her enthusiasm – nay squealing excitement – for the taste of the vegetables she talked about, cooked a certain way and yum-yum-yum!  See, eating delicious food I GET.  Cindy just may turn me into a farmer after all (along with Ranter Michele). Cindy400

So for staffers at the White House, if you’re reading this (we WISH), here’s Cindy’s bio:

Cynthia Brown, Assistant Director at Green Springs Garden, started her gardening career in tandem with her passion for cooking.  Her desire to have specialty herbs and vegetables led her to experiment with edibles and test the climatic limits of the mid-Atlantic region.Cindy is a regular contributor to Washington Gardener magazine, appears on local TV and radio shows and speaks frequently at various horticultural venues.  She designs gardens with a mix of ornamentals and edibles for a gourmet garden that appeals to all your senses.

Top photo:  A lovely family-size kitchen garden – Robin Wedewer’s  in Maryland.  Middle: Harvest celebration at the Youth Garden.  Bottom: Cindy Brown.


  1. Yay for Cindy Brown as Head Gardener for the White House Veggie Plot! But …. that would take her away from Green Spring, where she is a very much appreciated asset!

    And Cindy — how about a lecture from you in the Winter Lecture series, talking about vegetable varieties to grow here? I can’t get to Brookside very easily, but I can (and do) get to the lectures at Green Spring.

  2. No worries, Rosella. Cindy tells me she’d happily volunteer her help in choosing veg varieties and a design for the garden – while continuing her work at Green Springs.

  3. As a Madisonian, I, of course, voted for Claire. And Will Allen has already been recognized as a genius by the MacArthur folks. But I think you have a great idea and a great sounding person there. And it is critical to know the climate and region so that what ever kind of garden project is ultimately picked, it will be successful.

    It’s worth checking out the Madison link because this is more than just community gardens. They are part of a new urban co-housing development (moderate to low income) centered on the gardens, with woods, community farm, and lots of outreach. An amazing project.

  4. Who is “the Iowa farmer whose White House Farmer website and make-believe election have brought even more attention”? Or did you mean to say Illinois farmer?

  5. Michael Smith has been hired to help interior decorate the White House. When Jackie Kennedy redid the White House she chose several to give advice. Henry Francis du Pont of Winterthur was one.

    At Winterthur du Pont created an exquisite interior and landscape. From inside, his landscape is artwork on the wall equal to any painting.

    Winterthur’s landscape was a vanishing threshold with its interior. Something the White House should have. The house & landscape as one.

    I’ll never forget Bush speaking from the White House lawn about war in the Middle East. The water/fertilizer/chemical/maintenance nightmare lawn with hideous white iron bench in the background.

    How oil countries must have laughed at a man with that type of landscape. Their personal pockets lined by his, our, need for that type of landscape.

    Winterthur’s gardens are famous. Imagine if du Pont had reworked the White House grounds too.

    Perhaps the Obama girls would be looking out their windows into a secret garden, a favorite focal point, a surprising flush of blossom or a shockingly beautiful transition of leaf color.

    Views to stir the soul. Create memories. Maybe the desire to become a landscape architect. At the very least, instill a desire to landscape or have a landscape wherever they live as an adult.

    Talk of vegetables is great but the need for landscaping at the White House is greater.

    Does Michael Smith get it that window views from the interiors he’s designing need designing too?

    A vegetable garden is part of that view. But so tiny.

    The White House is not afraid to battle foreign countries. Why is it afraid to improve the landscape?

    Garden & Be Well……Tara

  6. Ditto the kitchen garden idea. Wouldn’t that be the most effective way to convince skeered would-be veggie gardners (like, for example, moi), that it is a do-able project?

    I like your nomination, too!

  7. Recently our local paper published a piece where some guy was ranting about tearing out the lawns at our governor’s mansion and replacing it with vegetable gardens…. I guess the guy had never been to the mansion because if he had he would have noticed that the bulk of the property is full of shade producing trees (we are the ‘City of Oaks’ after all) and the corners that have sunlight are planted with nicely maintained 12 month vegetable gardens. Enough food is grown in a few small plots to feed the staff and governor’s family and any formal dinners held there. This has been going on for years. It is nothing new.

    So it can be done and done well.

  8. Robin, nice looking garden!

    Most vegetables are annual crops, so they require more management than most ornamentals. You have to pay attention to what the soil is like, when to plant, when to water, when to harvest. This is all intensely local knowledge. I’d say, go with the DC person.

  9. Susan – Raleigh NC. I’ll show it to you personally in Sept. for the GWA Symposium. Right now everything looks a bit burnt from the recent cold snap but when they perk up I’ll take some pix and email them to you. The gov’s mansion isn’t gai-normus, and its in the middle of downtown with streets and traffic on all sides. There is nothing special about its location – if they can pull this off, anyone can.

    Isn’t the National Botanic Garden right across the street from the capital? Isn’t there some way they can just put a food garden in between the two places?

  10. If there is to be a produce garden at the White House, then I’m all for a Small Kitchen Garden. Let’s encourage everyone to grow their own food by demonstrating how it looks to “normal” people rather than to master gardeners and commercial operators. Of course, I’m biased. My blog, Your Small Kitchen Garden is about encouraging people to start kitchen gardens in whatever space they have available. Please check it out if you have a chance.

  11. Susan,
    You hit the nail on the head! A small, personal garden that can be tended by the family would be a more effective example over a large garden tended by professionals.

    You are so clever!

    Too bad the WH is not in California- I would volunteer!

  12. John – if you pull out a map of the USBG grounds and the Capitol, you’ll see there really isn’t a place for a veggie garden there – there is a large traffic circle – then it is mostly nice old trees on the Capitol lawn and then the USBG plaza with tons of containers. Behind the USBG is the stunning Bartholdi garden and next to the USBG is the new National Garden full of natives and a rose garden. Next to THAT is the American Indian Museum grounds which DOES have a bunch of edibles – mostly corn and squash out back. Then behind THAT is a triangle of govt.-employee community garden plots. This is right off the Mall and full of tons of edible goodies.

    Cindy – I think we all posed with the frog last Saturday 🙂

    Susan and I are in agreement on the kitchen garden at the WH concept – both as more realistic and inspirational to the average American household than a full-fledged farm.

  13. There already is a small, family-sized kitchen garden at the White House–the Clintons put one on the roof at the suggestion of Alice Waters.

    And both the current executive chef and the new one hired by the Obamas seem well-versed in local, sustainable, and organic food.

  14. Great recommendations, Susan. I particularly like the idea of setting a garden example that the average person can look to for inspiration–not something so awe-inspiring that they write it off as fantasy.

    BTW, how nice to log on and find you used my potager as an example! Thank you!

    Robin Wedewer

  15. Hi Susan,

    I think you have some great ideas here. A local garden expert who already knows what works and what does could be of great benefit.

    Also, have you seen the super fun videos that Roger of Eat the View has posted? I mentioned the one about the history of the White House victory garden in my latest blog. (I mentioned Garden Rant and your great ideas, too. 🙂

    I wish I could have gone to the Seed Exchange that Washington Gardener put on. Sadly, though, I was working. …

    Do you know of any other seed swaps coming up?

    Take care!


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