Three smart things about the White House veg garden


1.  The White House "farmer" turns out to be a hot young chef with a history of local activism (Sam Kass, right).

2. The garden is family-size, not the 5-acre farm suggested by Michael Pollan and others. 

3. It costs about $200 to install, a fact that's being emphasized with the media.

No wonder they're doing so many things right – Mrs. O started soliciting ideas for the garden soon after the election.  At least that's when her staff contacted this blogger.  (Oh, yeah!  More about that coming soon.)

Oh, can I cheat and add one more smart thing?  They're not calling it a Victory Garden.  Who needs a war to grow food?


  1. In fact, the smartest thing about the garden is that it is partnering with a District of Columbia elementary school. As Michelle Obama explained, she is primarily interested in teaching kids about wholesome, locally grown food. This partially solves the dilemma of the Obamas setting themselves up with their own pristine produce source while most of the country is still getting theirs at Wal-Mart. Personally, I think the hoopla over the White House garden is way overdone in the absence of actual federal policy aimed at giving everyone better access to locally grown foods–or their own gardens–especially with the president continues to encourage Big Ag by pressing for more ethanol and its attendant food crises around the world. More substance and less symbolism, I say. Credit the First Lady for devising a clever end run around these issues. Still, I would have preferred the Obamas adopt a school garden. Perhaps now Michelle Obama will turn her attention to the country’s dismal school lunch program.

  2. Ah, the school kids, those lucky fifth-graders. For many years the garden at their school has been the responsibility of a very cool volunteer in the neighborhood and my friend old Iris Rothman, and I’m hoping to get a full report from her – or directly from her young garden-tenders – about what it’s like to garden with the First Lady.

  3. Yay for the White House garden, though I have to admit feeling a little disappointed at the publicity video of Michelle Obama tentatively poking at the soil in her nice leggings and patent leather boots. Guess you have to look good for the cameras. I hope we’ll eventually see some shots of her in her grubbies, putting those well-muscled arms into some real digging action.

  4. It is so exciting to see vegetable gardening brought back to the masses. Several of my friends and relatives think growing your own food is for hippies or farmers.

    In fact the only family member I can talk to about gardening is my Grandmother who grew her own food as a child. I think the White House Vegetable Garden is just what we need to encourage more people to dig in!

    PS: Did they really contact you? Can’t wait to hear more!

  5. Yet another smart thing – the garden combines veggies, herbs and flowers, and it has rotations of plantings for early and late season. I’m not sure I buy the $200 install budget (maybe it works with all the free labor from the school kids!) but if it even changes a few people’s minds about getting a food garden started, then it’s a great thing. I love it!

  6. Iris rothman has been not only the vision and spiritual light behind the gardens at Bancroft Elementary but also the generalisimo fighting red tape at every step and getting the jackhammers and bulldozers moving. There’s no mention of her in the Washington Post story this morning. But it’s volunteers like Iris who should be held up as heros. She was at it long before Michelle Obama ditched the high-fructose juice boxes and discovered local food.

  7. My kids and I once met an 8 year old boy who did not know what a plum was. Hurray for Michelle Obama, and every other person working to raise awareness of fresh foods and promote and support school gardens.

  8. But in adopting a school or community garden, they would entirely miss the “food not lawns” aspect of the garden’s symbolism–one that I consider extremely important. True, the food they’ll grow will be healthy, but the FACT that they’re growing that food in what WAS a “lawn” makes a statement, too.

  9. I don’t know, I spent about $200 on mine this year, and that included a lot of random incidentals other than seeds and plants.

    I usually get about 2 years of use out of a packet of seeds, and sometimes I get 3, depending on germination rates.

    Anyway, $200 sounds pretty reasonable. If you are ignoring the cook’s salary, anyway.

  10. The White House garden is meaningless unless “O” himself is going to weed it and pick the spoils.

    I had to lay off my yard man when my real estate portfolio plummeted (on paper, but have you seen the price of paper lately?)

    the troll

  11. I really like the idea and am thinking about getting some mulch and seeds on payday and startin the ol gardenroo!!

  12. I think we have so much to cheer and celebrate in this story, volunteers like Iris, chefs like Sam, and a First Lady like Michelle who is willing to do something that is new to her, and willing to take the first steps. Every journey begins and all that. I don’t like the name Victory Gardens in this context either. Hope Gardens? I hope for healthy food for all.

  13. Well, everyone has to start somewhere. I’d love to see M.O. organize a whole series of gardens in DC. For now, I’ll take one vs. none!

    I’m trying not to be critical on this one, because what they’re doing on this project is fundamentally good. But…I’m building a raised bed vegetable garden this year from scratch. And for about 250 sq ft of planting space, my total cost will come in at about $500 (incl. dirt, compost, mulch, cedar, seeds & plants, etc). I’d love to know how they did it for $200. And where in the heck did they find such a smokin’ hot farmer? Seriously!

  14. I too would like to see Mr. O be more hands-on and involved in the garden. From the 60 Minutes interview yesterday, he seemed to distant himself — though I hope to see him soon roll up his sleeves and dig up a potato or two.

    To the person asking where the “‘maters” are — the tomato seedlings will likely go in the about warly-mid May (they can wait to mid-June really). It is only the first weekend of spring and pretty darn cold outside right now (low 40s for a high). We still have may frosts and freezes to contend with in DC between now and then.

  15. I think Michelle should plant some topsy turvy tomato plants by her garden. The kids would get a big kick out of watching the plants grow upside down.
    Of course they would need something to hang from. Maybe the chef could come up with an idea–
    2 posts with a beam across it.

  16. Hey Susan, I call my garden a victory garden not because of a war effort but because it’s a victory against corporate agriculture. But even then I’m not fond of the term victory garden… I’m more anarchy in the garden. =)

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