Why all the attacks on the White House Garden?


Mother%20Jones0609-10 If you missed the big gardening news this week, here's the summary version:

After the not-surprising attacks on the organic nature of the garden from the lobby group for Big Chem, this latest attack came curiously from the left.  It started with a story in Mother Jones claiming that the garden, with its 93 parts per million of lead, is "contaminated", supposedly due to the composted sewage applied to the land during the Clinton years.   

Then a Huffington Post writer took that ball and ran with it: The Obama Organic Family Garden: Swimming in Sludge? Here's a quote [bold added]: "Recently the National Park Service discovered that the White House
lawn, where the garden was planted, contains highly elevated levels of
lead — 93 parts per million. It's enough lead for anyone planning to
have children pick vegetables in that garden or eat produce from it to
reconsider their plans:
lead is highly toxic to children's developing
organs and brain functions — howevHuffposter, it's below the 400 ppm the EPA
suggests is a threat to human health."

First, the 93 ppm finding was known by the Park Service months ago and made public back in March when the garden was announced.  And who says 93 ppm is enough to stop people with children from growing food in it?

But to the rescue of good science and journalism is my favorite DC food blogger, Eddie Gehman Kohan, author of Obama Foodoramama.  She got the old-fashioned notion of contacting soil scientists – 3 of them – and their responses are detailed in her post:  The Only Thing Toxic about the White House Kitchen Garden is the Rumors: Scientists Correct the Record on Contamination".  There she calls the attack "the latest from the pooposphere of poor fact checking on Huffington Post".  And she finds it interesting that "some of the people who are most likely to take media stabs at the White
House Kitchen Garden are those who profess themselves to be champions
of environmental stewardship and of a food system that's local,
sustainable, and organic," citing the author of the MoJo story in particular.

And she goes on to indict lots of bloggers:  "Many other food and gardening blogs posted about the Mother Jones sludge/lead contamination, too, without fact checking. Even very reputable ones."  Okay, who was it?

Then Eddie responded on HuffPost itself with this takedown.

And here's a point that bears repeating:

The other bizarre element to the whole bashing thing is that anyone who
thinks the White House left a single stone unturned in planning the
garden is…what's the most delicate, diplomatic, term? Oh yeah, silly. The White House was well aware that the first food garden planted on the campus since WWII was going to be big news. Of course all details were accounted for. Of course
appropriate testing was conducted. The White House has the finest minds
in America, experts in every field, available for consultation. It's
beyond silly to imagine that the garden wasn't thoroughly "vetted."

That's exactly my impression of the garden gang at the White House (see earlier post about how smart the whole project is).

Oh, and here's the link to the Mother Jones story.  When I tried it, an error message came
up saying due to a fire, the server was down, but check back for news
of Sarah Palin and "MoJo's scoop that the White House garden has been poisoned by sewage sludge".  Still, after all the debunking!

This is yet another example of bloggers getting it right after mainstream or print media get it wrong.  In this case, Eddie's a career food policy writer and consultant, so it's no wonder she knows a thing or two.  [Photo of Eddie on the "Today Show".]  And get this – she got herself invited to the White House Easter Egg Roll – by continuously bugging the Press Office – AND the White House Correspondent's Dinner. I'm so jealous.

In a close reading of "ObFo", I see that Politico and the Drudge Report have also "bashed" the "WHKG".  It's just more proof that gardening's (finally) a hot topic, so let's enjoy it! 


  1. Since “green” is the new Taste machine, its easy to get poo-pooing on anyone- even the left. No one will ever be green enough, so lets get our poo-poo on.

    Has anyone fact-checked the sewage sludge angle.
    So what, the Clinton staff used sewage-based compost on their lawn? IS that the problem?Somehow I am doubting thats where the lead is coming from anyway. Its probably from paint and car exhaust like most everyone else’s lead. 93 particles of lead in 1,000,000.

    Much ado about doodoo. I reserve my right to poo-poo that. I got lead too:


  2. 93 parts per million is, in fact, a ridiculously low lead level. Kudos to Eddie for tracking down a number of university types for answers. It’s still not clear exactly what is a “safe” level for lead in food garden soil. Eddie’s blog is a strange mix of reportage and ferocious White House cheerleading, an example of the new advocacy journalism that frequently goes over the top.

  3. This is exactly the reason that politics should be left out of the garden.

    If The First Couple really wanted to garden we should have let them. Everyone wants to put in their two cents on how they should do it. Organic, in-organic, Big Chem, Little Chem, etc., etc., etc.

    If people started coming around like this at my garden, telling me how to do it, I think I would go nuts.

    I realize that the garden is full of symbolic meaning, being at The White House and all, but I think too many people have projected how they feel a garden should be. Just let them garden. It’s the one place where discussion of politics should be banned, and the gardener left alone.

  4. Do not be surprised by the Left. They are just as capable as the Right in terms of disregarding science in the name of political agendas. I could name a few cases by each side in which this has happened, but I don’t want to turn this post into a flame fest.

    Let’s just say that it is better to trust the scientists (usually). Even then, scientists have been known to make up numbers to suit their own agenda as well. The only solution to trust? Peer review and common sense.

    Idle hands and idyl journalists are the devil’s tools…

  5. Lead, schmead. Who knows what other surprises are in store for the intrepid WH gardeners?
    Here is an excerpt from the book “White House Landscapes” by Barbara McEwan: “Mrs. Mellon [commissioned by the Kennedys for a garden outside the oval office] found herself confronted with much White House history in the process of the garden’s construction. Surprises occurred when the old soil was replaced with new. As the area was dug to a depth of four inches, many relics of bygone years, such as pieces of pots from the old greenhouses and Civil War horseshoes, were recovered. The biggest surprise of all was a cable of undetermined significance in one corner of the plot. It was cut — and the diggers were immediately surrounded by security guards. Unbeknownst to the crew or Mrs. Mellon, this cable was part of the hotline that set off the nation’s military alert. (In the haste of installing it during World War II its location had not been accurately recorded.)”
    Seriously, the Huff Post story reads like something from the Enquirer — a baiting headline, followed by little of substance.

  6. I would think that 8+ years would be enough time for the “Clinton sludge” to have broken down?

    I have to say that I’m glad that I don’t have someone reporting about my first organic veg garden. They’d find mistakes aplenty, frustrations galore, and less food than intended. 🙁 And actually, I’m still pleased! HA!

  7. No news brings slinging.

    Basic reporter research is lacking. Lead is common; If a high level – so common in urban areas – amend the soil – do raised beds! Such ignorant people.

  8. It’s pretty par for course in the organic madness crowd.

    Lead is not hazardous at low concentrations. True. The same can be said of many pesticides. But you will -never- convince some people of that. You just can’t do it.

    I don’t know why you consider these sorts of attacks from the left curious; they have been doing this sort of thing for a very long time.

  9. The White House has the brightest minds in America????????

    Neither Democrats or Republicans have ever had the brightest minds in America when they owned the White House.

    Why does O’Bama keep getting a free pass. Things are so bad in the US he can’t stay home long enough to deal with them.

    If the White House garden is such a big idea why is it not front page news on the nightly news telling the way Victory Gardens were?

    The TROLL

  10. I would expect Michelle Obama and Barry Soetoro to always get their free passes on everything they do. No matter what the problem is or how bad it is, they are always excused. So why bother to defend them when they are beyond reproach?

  11. So… Greg, your standard for a successful garden is that it make the front page? Otherwise the gardener is getting a “free pass”? If so, the rest of us sure are in hot water!

    And Linda, in what way has Michelle Obama’s garden so offended that it needs an “excuse”?

    For goodness sakes, folks, gardens are for everyone, even for those who may not hold your political views. Gardens are a great way to reach across those things that divide us.

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