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A diet of sunshine
February 2, 2009 6:17 AM   Subscribe

Will the White House have its own farmer? Back in October, Michael Pollan called upon the president-elect to rip up a 5-acre section of the White House's south-facing lawns and hire a farmer to cultivate it. Over 55,000 Americans have nominated Claire Strader to be that farmer, if the Obamas decide to take up a new Victory Garden initiative. The question now is will they?

Supporters see a White House farm as a way for the first family to address many of the issues Obama cites as a focus of his administration--economic security, public health promotion, climate change, and reducing fossil fuel dependence.

Obama's position on organic and local agriculture would suggest that he might consider a White House Farmer, as does his recent decision to hire local-food proponent Sam Kass to work alongside the executive chef at the White House.

Claire Strader speaks of her vision.
posted by Stewriffic (92 comments total) 9 users marked this as a favorite

 
I wonder how poisoned the White House surrounding soil must be from years of using the strongest chemical fertilizers known to man to keep the grass so green and weed free for so long.
posted by any major dude at 6:20 AM on February 2, 2009 [7 favorites]


God, this would be a great symbol of change: from oligarchical useless palacial ostentation -- the message that the ruler is so powerful that he can afford to wallow in luxurious gardens tended by others -- to a democratic, productive, working farm, indicating that everyone in America, even the most powerful, works to produce tangible goods.
posted by orthogonality at 6:26 AM on February 2, 2009 [1 favorite]


Yay Claire!!
posted by Floydd at 6:28 AM on February 2, 2009


Pollan.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 6:35 AM on February 2, 2009


I kind of like Pollen. It's apt. I'm changing his name.
posted by Stewriffic at 6:36 AM on February 2, 2009 [3 favorites]


Hey, Mr. President! Free compost at Starbucks!
posted by ColdChef at 6:39 AM on February 2, 2009


Also: I just planted my heirloom tomato seeds yesterday. I'm getting a jump start on my garden this year. Mmmm...homegrown tomatoes.
posted by ColdChef at 6:42 AM on February 2, 2009


He should totally grow some pot.
posted by Sailormom at 6:43 AM on February 2, 2009 [4 favorites]


And...for those of you interested, don't forget the MeFi Seed Exchange. (kinda sorta self-linky?)
posted by Stewriffic at 6:43 AM on February 2, 2009


How quaint. How about we let him work on the whole global economic crisis thing before saddling him with the job of hiring a gardener.
posted by photoslob at 6:44 AM on February 2, 2009 [1 favorite]


For 8 years there, they fostered the growth of a vegetable inside the White House.
posted by gman at 6:54 AM on February 2, 2009 [9 favorites]


Is the White House seriously considering this? So far reading all this it seems like a pony proposal.
posted by crapmatic at 6:59 AM on February 2, 2009


If he does have a garden planted, watch for the right-wingers to go nuts like they did over Jimmy Carter's sweater.
posted by The Card Cheat at 7:00 AM on February 2, 2009


This is going to make it a lot easier to convince my wife we need a garden in OUR front yard. The only problem is going to be affording the salary of a dedicated farmer...
posted by DU at 7:04 AM on February 2, 2009


I never thought the soil in what is ostensibly a military installation disguised as a "residence" would be conducive to producing healthy, nutritive produce. But I'm sure those aubergines are going to look mighty tasty.
posted by mrmojoflying at 7:14 AM on February 2, 2009


And if they don't plant corn, they can collect a government subsidy. Win. Win.
posted by netbros at 7:15 AM on February 2, 2009 [7 favorites]


Not just Jimmy Carter's sweater, but his metric system, 65 degree thermostat and solar panels too.

This is only going to be seen as a radical act to people who have been told all of their lives that nothing is wrong with the American way of life. I hate to say it, but it's not only the big things like the economy that could make Obama a one term president. It could be a multiple of small and memorable things that don't seem to make sense to most people that could lose it for him. Let's not forget that this is the same country that re-elected Bush II.
posted by kuujjuarapik at 7:18 AM on February 2, 2009 [2 favorites]


But I'm sure those aubergines are going to look mighty tasty.


Sure, until they explode, killing many.
posted by The Whelk at 7:22 AM on February 2, 2009


netbros: "And if they don't plant corn, they can collect a government subsidy. Win. Win."

I would laugh so goddamned hard.
posted by Science! at 7:26 AM on February 2, 2009


it seems like a pony proposal.

That's the twist ending... remember that puppy they were going to get Sasha and Malia?
posted by ook at 7:31 AM on February 2, 2009


I doubt this will happen because pointing out that people can actually DIY some of their food goes against the interests of corporate agriculture.

My grandmother grew a vegetable garden of a few thousand square feet into her 70's.

In general I doubt we'll see much advocacy for practical bottom-up solutions that don't benefit "the economy" (rich people) from this administration, e.g. we'll be getting subsidies to throw out 4 year old cars and buy new cars, with a bullshit environmentalism whitewash, rather than education or subsidies on automobile repair and environmental refitting.
posted by TheOnlyCoolTim at 7:32 AM on February 2, 2009 [1 favorite]


FDR grew a victory garden at the White House in order to promote the program and set the example.

There was a bit of a global crisis going on then, too, and victory gardens were at least part of the solution to economic problems like the expense of food. 40% of the fresh produce eaten in the US during the years 1941-45 came from home gardens.
posted by Miko at 7:35 AM on February 2, 2009 [4 favorites]


FDR grew a victory garden at the White House in order to promote the program and set the example.

Which I think is actually part of the problem with the idea (even though I do think it's pretty rad). Until we're of the overall national mindset that we're all in this together (which, given the political climate and constantly-churning spin machine, won't happen), any concrete acknowledgement that we need to tighten belts and change our way of life will look like cynicism to many people. Linking itself in such a clear way to previous economic difficulties would probably give the impression of a grim outlook on the administration's part.
posted by uncleozzy at 7:48 AM on February 2, 2009 [1 favorite]


Let's not forget that this is the same country Diebold voting machine that re-elected Bush II.

I'm honestly curious as to what margin Obama actually won by since it was enough to cancel out the fraud and disenfranchisement.
posted by stet at 7:52 AM on February 2, 2009


I hate to say it, but it's not only the big things like the economy that could make Obama a one term president. It could be a multiple of small and memorable things that don't seem to make sense to most people that could lose it for him. Let's not forget that this is the same country that re-elected Bush II.

Yes, let's all pause and remember the lessons of Bill Clinton. Obama should spend all his time figuring out how to pacify the most ignorant and myopic in our population. This way he will achieve reelection and accomplish absolutely nothing.
posted by any major dude at 7:55 AM on February 2, 2009 [14 favorites]


Until we're of the overall national mindset that we're all in this together (which, given the political climate and constantly-churning spin machine, won't happen)...

It especially won't happen if avoid taking steps that promote that mindset. I'd say a WH kitchen garden would be an ideal first step towards promoting an "everybody do their share" mentality.

...any concrete acknowledgement that we need to tighten belts and change our way of life will look like cynicism to many people.

I can already hear the anti-spin. "The White House 'farm' (heavy air-quotes) costs $100 million dollars every ten minutes and only produced one tomato last year!!!!"
posted by DU at 8:13 AM on February 2, 2009


This is something I can see Obama getting behind. Evenmaybe a pet project for Michelle. It's a very visual act that would encourage Americans to follow the example of our leader in doing something that's rather simple, but can be wildly effective.
posted by Hachijuhachi at 8:16 AM on February 2, 2009


Oh yeah, I'm not saying we shouldn't do it (cos fuck yeah, I'd like to see the official White House jack-o-lantern carved from a genuine White House pumpkin), but I would expect a really frustrating response.
posted by uncleozzy at 8:18 AM on February 2, 2009


DC has a dearth of community garden spaces downtown, so I think it would be better to de-accession the whole White House lawn and turn it over to the people. We could build some elevated beds and truck in some nice new compost instead of using the exisiting pesticide and fertilizer-ridden groundsoil.
posted by footnote at 8:26 AM on February 2, 2009 [3 favorites]


Wait - you mean the MeFi Seed Exchange is about plants?
posted by Kirth Gerson at 8:26 AM on February 2, 2009 [3 favorites]


Wait - you mean the MeFi Seed Exchange is about plants?

No, they're about seed pods. Huge seed pods. Why don't you take a rest and lie down for a while?
posted by The Whelk at 8:29 AM on February 2, 2009 [3 favorites]


Go Madison!
posted by thanotopsis at 8:39 AM on February 2, 2009


Man .... Obama this, Obama that.

Nobody did a post when I turned my crawlspace into a grow op.
posted by mannequito at 8:42 AM on February 2, 2009 [7 favorites]


the pollenites, like his book, are almost willfully disengaged from the problem of agriculture.

small scale produce farms are not going to feed manhattan, much like they won't feed Cuba, or Japan. They are something which is easy to feel good about but the question is:

How do you have industrialized agriculture which is socially just and enviromentally sustainable.

Pollan has about 40 pages of interesting and informative discussion about the problems of american industrialized farming, before veering into his love affair with xtian fundy libertarian family farms and the boutique agriculture that makes him and his social class feel connected to the land, looks like what agriculture means to them... etc.

the reality is that food is always going to be trucked into some places, and industrialized practices can be vastly more efficient (for lots of reasons) than a million tiny farms. but dealing with the politics and the thorny problems of designing a good system is not as fun as joining a CSA, involves actual policy compromises and dealing with people you don't like i.e Carhart or ADM.

I wouldn't let Michael Pollan anywhere near a policy discussion because fundamentally he sees agriculture as a lifestyle issue rather than a huge and vital industry. so instead we're left with earl butts and his progeny...
posted by geos at 8:44 AM on February 2, 2009 [9 favorites]


geos: small scale produce farms are not going to feed manhattan, much like they won't feed Cuba, or Japan.

They already do feed Havana.
posted by parudox at 9:01 AM on February 2, 2009 [3 favorites]


If you've got a little land and you *aren't* using it to grow some of your own food, then you're just costing yourself. I'm not saying Victory Gardens can remotely replace large-scale agricultural efforts, but they can surely augment them and in so doing save tons of fuel that would otherwise be used to transport what you can just carry inside from your back yard.

I spend maybe 50 bucks on plants and seeds each year for my garden. In return for that minor investment and a little time (not much!), I probably get about $1500 worth of vegetables, fruit and nuts. Besides the monetary savings, which are considerable, it's also healthier, tastes better, and is more environmentally friendly. So, why *not* do it? I don't see much of any downside to Victory Gardens, personally.
posted by jamstigator at 9:03 AM on February 2, 2009 [8 favorites]


This would be cool if it happened, but I wonder if there isn't something secret buried under the lawn or some top secret security device that'll prevent this from happening.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 9:10 AM on February 2, 2009


I don't think Pollan has a "love affair with xtian fundy libertarian family farms", I think he just loves Polyface, because of what it is and what it represents. The fact that Salatin happens to be...ok, a Christian fundy libertarian is completely irrelevant to what he does for a living and why Pollan loves his farm. Just saying.
But I do agree that he never addresses the issue of how to implement any of his ideas on a scale large enough to provide food for the entire country.
posted by Dormant Gorilla at 9:10 AM on February 2, 2009 [1 favorite]



They already do feed Havana.
posted by parudox at 12:01 PM on February 2 [+] [!]


no they don't, look up how many tons of rice cuba has to import to survive. the urban gardens are nice but without importing food cuba would starve.


I don't think Pollan has a "love affair with xtian fundy libertarian family farms", I think he just loves Polyface, because of what it is and what it represents. The fact that Salatin happens to be...ok, a Christian fundy libertarian is completely irrelevant to what he does for a living and why Pollan loves his farm. Just saying.


no it's not. he couldn't run his farm without the unpaid labor of his wife and children; their relationship to him is very much connected to his ideology. agriculture is labor intensive: many of those organic farms with csa's couldn't survive without the labor of well-meaning 'interns' with college degrees looking for an experience and willing to be paid migrant labor wages.

their's a lot of injustice in small scale farming... we forget.
posted by geos at 9:17 AM on February 2, 2009 [1 favorite]


"small scale produce farms are not going to feed manhattan, much like they won't feed Cuba, or Japan..."

In Cuba, 70 percent of the vegetables and herbs grown on the island today are organic and the urban gardens where they are raised are usually within walking distance of those who will consume them . . . in one blow Cuba reduced the use of fossil fuels in the production and transportation of food. And they began doing this nearly 20 years ago.
posted by markkraft at 9:18 AM on February 2, 2009 [2 favorites]


Obama should spend all his time figuring out how to pacify the most ignorant and myopic in our population.

No, but he shouldn't give them any reason to think that he's not one of them, which is exactly what something like this will do.

This way he will achieve reelection and accomplish absolutely nothing.

There is a way to accomplish things AND be re-elected. It most likely will involve a little lying and break your heart. What did you expect?
posted by kuujjuarapik at 9:27 AM on February 2, 2009


What's the half-life of Cheney contamination?
posted by schoolgirl report at 9:28 AM on February 2, 2009 [1 favorite]


agriculture is labor intensive

Tell me about it. I love our 400 square foot backyard garden in urban DC, which has produced massive amounts of tomatoes, peppers, and other goodies, but the two of us have at times compared it to a plantation. The fact that gardening season and baseball season overlap meant that I had virtually no time for anything else the past two summers. The silver lining of the Nationals being so lousy is that we'll probably go to fewer games this coming season.

I could imagine the White House pulling off a similarly-sized vegetable garden with existing groundkeeping staff, especially if they convert part of the Rose Garden. A "garden" on the scale of acres doesn't make sense to me -- instead something more along the size of what an average household would contemplate.
posted by exogenous at 9:35 AM on February 2, 2009 [1 favorite]


There's a veggie garden already at the Governor's mansion in Raleigh, NC, and there was a recent editorial about getting rid of all the grass there in favor of more vegetables. Same concept as is being asked of the White House--donate the surplus to food banks.
posted by Stewriffic at 9:51 AM on February 2, 2009 [1 favorite]


Personally, I'd rather see a push for more community gardens in urban areas. Symbolism is cool, but it's not hard for wealthy people to dig up their lawn and hire a garden. I'd like to see money and resources spent that promotes healthy eating and ecological education for regular people. A working White House farm that is a community garden and educational center would be cool. I'm far less enthusiastic about a private White House farm.

Also: I just planted my heirloom tomato seeds yesterday. I'm getting a jump start on my garden this year.

Indoors, I'm hoping? Still, it's a bit early unless your yard has an extra warm microclimate, because tomatoes won't flower until nighttime temps are consistently over 55 degrees. I think for you that means mid-April. Planting them early outside usually sets them back as they hate cold soil.

posted by oneirodynia at 9:54 AM on February 2, 2009


hire a gardener. It's early here.
posted by oneirodynia at 9:54 AM on February 2, 2009


the reality is that food is always going to be trucked into some places, and industrialized practices can be vastly more efficient (for lots of reasons) than a million tiny farms

Skyscraper farms! Why don't we talk about this more (I'm sure it was on the blue at least once)?

Pollan's book described Polyface Farm, which sounded lovely, but inadvertantly pointed out that we have two problems: true organic growing is really about intensive soil-management, and it's freaking complicated and time consuming, and hard to scale.

While the big ag farms are just not sustainable in the long run, in terms of soil erosion, chemical pollution, and water waste.

The two types of farms share a common problem as well; weather. Outdoor farming relying on local soil+additives/management is vastly inefficient. Why don't we already grow in skyscrapers or a similar arrangement that preserves space, soil, and water to an exponentially greater degree, and is shielded from weather/bug plagues/parasites/etc? That puts food close to its consumers, providing fresh fruits and veggies year round to everyone?


I ask in all seriousness. It just never comes up in these discussions about growing our food, or is dismissed out of hand, and it seems so glaringly obvious as a long-term solution to so many of our problems.
posted by emjaybee at 9:56 AM on February 2, 2009 [1 favorite]


Despite my organic, small-scale agriculture sympathies, I find this idea an embarrassment to whatever dignity the White House is supposed to embody.

The next logical step would be to get rid of the clothes dryers and just hang the washing on lines in the Rose Garden.
posted by Joe Beese at 9:56 AM on February 2, 2009


Why not?
posted by pracowity at 10:02 AM on February 2, 2009


Indoors, I'm hoping? Still, it's a bit early unless your yard has an extra warm microclimate, because tomatoes won't flower until nighttime temps are consistently over 55 degrees. I think for you that means mid-April. Planting them early outside usually sets them back as they hate cold soil.

Heh. Yep. I'm starting them from seed indoors and then moving them outside in April. Whaddaya think I am? An idjit? (Though I am going to start preparing my soil this week. It's never too early to start turning and composting and mulching. )
posted by ColdChef at 10:03 AM on February 2, 2009 [1 favorite]


I agree with pracowity. Why not? Just put up screens so people don't get all up at arms about the panties/boxers/nighties, etc. Or else just do sheets and towels outside. There's not much better than sun-dried sheets.
posted by Stewriffic at 10:04 AM on February 2, 2009


i hate the workd panties. why did I say that???

And yeah, ColdChef I'm right there with ya. Almost time to begin my tomatoes, and I've a lot of digging to do.
posted by Stewriffic at 10:05 AM on February 2, 2009


please crown me the typo queen of the day, mkay?
posted by Stewriffic at 10:06 AM on February 2, 2009


Dude, you know Washington would have totally grown some killer weed!
posted by orme at 10:12 AM on February 2, 2009 [1 favorite]


A few acres sounds like a bit much. A fruit and vegetable garden makes more sense than a farm, especially if part of the point is to set an example. I also wanted to add that if they do this, I hope they would participate in a local grow-a-row program.

This kind of makes me want to grow some food on my balcony, but it's too shady.
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 10:14 AM on February 2, 2009


I can already hear the anti-spin. "The White House 'farm' (heavy air-quotes) costs $100 million dollars every ten minutes and only produced one tomato last year!!!!"

Nah, you're missing the obvious spin. Government run farms! Communism is on the rise!
posted by graventy at 10:18 AM on February 2, 2009


The president should just make the racists' heads implode by planting cotton.
posted by ColdChef at 10:23 AM on February 2, 2009 [7 favorites]


"The next logical step would be to get rid of the clothes dryers and just hang the washing on lines in the Rose Garden."

I'm find the idea that it's somehow unsightly or undignified to hang one's clothes out to dry to be vaguely offensive in a way that I can't quite describe. I feel like the underlying logic is: hanging things out to dry is what poor people do. If we hang things out to dry we'll look like poor people. People with think either that we're poor (unlikely for the white house) or that we behave like poor people or we're not better than poor people. To which my natural response is: So? Is there something wrong with poor people? Why would I care if people think I'm poor? It's not like that's thinking something bad about me. I'd rather have people think I'm poor than wasteful (which I do think is bad).

Of course, despite earning a tidy sum I use coupons, walk everywhere I go and carry my groceries in a cart, I take the cart to the mall sometimes, and I have a comforter draped over a chair to dry in my bedroom right at this very moment. And I'm actually more wasteful than poor, but given the choice I'd rather people not know that or think that about me.
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 10:25 AM on February 2, 2009 [7 favorites]


The president should just make the racists' heads implode by planting cotton.

Oh. My. That would be head implosion indeed.

I actually have a few green cotton seeds myself.
posted by Stewriffic at 10:27 AM on February 2, 2009


emjaybee I'm guessing that what stops this from happening is plain economics. Skyscrapers are expensive to build. What will give a better return on investment for a nice sunny room with a good view of the city, a roomfull of tomato plants or an investment banker?

Its a nifty idea, and I think it'd look cool as all get out. But unfortunately I just don't see anyone sacrificing the cubic necessary to grow plants when they can more profitably sell it to rich business types.
posted by sotonohito at 10:32 AM on February 2, 2009


I can already hear the anti-spin. "The White House 'farm' (heavy air-quotes) costs $100 million dollars every ten minutes and only produced one tomato last year!!!!"

Nah, you're missing the obvious spin. Government run farms! Communism is on the rise!

Let Michelle do it. I think it would be pretty hard to criticize her.

"How is our economy to survive if all these communist so-called 'Mothers' feel the need to 'feed our children nutritious veggies' and give them 'valuable lessions about life'"

Then Barack can do his "aw, shucks, I'd tell her no, but she'd just go and do it anyway" routine and get back to running the country or whatever. Which, BTW, if anyone else saw the CBS post-election interview with them last night, he does surprisingly well.

I get the sense that the two of them have this little routine they get into when they do joint interviews, and it's like hey let's see if we can charm the pants off this news guy too, and hey! It worked again!
posted by sol at 10:37 AM on February 2, 2009 [1 favorite]


This is just a plot to bring in killer tomatoes.
posted by Halloween Jack at 10:38 AM on February 2, 2009


sotonohito, here in Dallas, the government actually pays businesses to stay in downtown so they don't abandon it; many major cities (and certainly most suburbs) have gluts of office space.

In addition if carbon taxes come into play, and you consider job creation, as well as quality of life, plus the massive amount of tax credits your average business gets for relocating to any city, why wouldn't ag companies consider it? We subsidize agriculture now; buying up office space might be peanuts compared to paying what we currently do to land farmers.

But I'm creating a derail, so I'll leave it at that. As for Obama, garden-great, laundry-no, at least not in view. Because I don't want to hear what Fox News has to says about his choice in boxers. Or briefs. Whatever.
posted by emjaybee at 10:59 AM on February 2, 2009


If the Democrats don't put a gardener in the White House, the Republicans most certainly will, given half a chance...
posted by markkraft at 11:16 AM on February 2, 2009


Let Michelle do it. I think it would be pretty hard to criticize her.

uh where have you been the last two years
posted by Optimus Chyme at 11:17 AM on February 2, 2009


Joe Beese: Despite my organic, small-scale agriculture sympathies, I find this idea an embarrassment to whatever dignity the White House is supposed to embody.

You know, it's about time we returned some dignity to the growing of food.
posted by parudox at 11:19 AM on February 2, 2009 [3 favorites]


Wow... they're pretty serious about this idea.
Nicely done video.
posted by markkraft at 11:33 AM on February 2, 2009 [3 favorites]


That video rocks, markkraft. thanks.
posted by Stewriffic at 11:43 AM on February 2, 2009


This reminds me of a Bay Area group's plan to reclaim Alcatraz and re-christen it a "Peace Island" full of geometrical shapes...
posted by Kirklander at 12:14 PM on February 2, 2009


I spend maybe 50 bucks on plants and seeds each year for my garden. In return for that minor investment and a little time (not much!), I probably get about $1500 worth of vegetables, fruit and nuts. Besides the monetary savings, which are considerable, it's also healthier, tastes better, and is more environmentally friendly. So, why *not* do it?

The wife and I put a garden in our backyard last year. The squirrels and whatnot allowed us to have whatever they did not consume or destroy; which was exceedingly kind of them. It was also a lot more work than just going to the supermarket or famers market - especially for what little it did produce that we were allowed to consume.

And those two things are why we are discussing not bothering this year. I'm probably not to different from most Americans in that regard. I further suspect that if we do decide to do a garden, I may yet get to try my grandfathers grilled BBQ squirrel recipe out.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 12:19 PM on February 2, 2009


I'm find the idea that it's somehow unsightly or undignified to hang one's clothes out to dry to be vaguely offensive in a way that I can't quite describe.

I read an article a while back about how clothes lines are disappearing from American backyards, to the extent that some municipalities actually don't allow them, claiming they are ugly.

This boggles my fucking mind. Clotheslines are the ultimate symbol of suburban family life the world over. You get the sunshine for fucking free. Hang your clothes out in it. Personally, I feel embarrassed when I do use the clothes dryer, thinking about the massive amount of energy I'm wasting and noise I'm making.
posted by Jimbob at 1:12 PM on February 2, 2009 [1 favorite]


Squirrels + Slingshot + Steel Ball Bearings = Happy Garden. That's the equation that works for me, anyway. ;)
posted by jamstigator at 1:21 PM on February 2, 2009


Why not put up an electric fence and get squirrel meat for free, then fry it up mike huckabee style.

When I was a kid my mom tried growing grapes on our back yard. Neighborhood kids took all of them before they had a chance to ripen.
posted by delmoi at 1:41 PM on February 2, 2009


Let Michelle do it. I think it would be pretty hard to criticize her.

This idea is vaguely unsettling to me, too. Let the man run the country, while his highly-educated and intelligent wife digs around in the dirt to grow dinner? I don't like saying this, because personally a lot of feminist stuff strikes me as overkill, but that's the first thing that came to mind for me. Maybe if the whole family worked on it together once a month, or if Michelle helped coordinate a program for inner-city kids to learn about veggie gardening on the white house lawn, then it might be good.
posted by vytae at 1:53 PM on February 2, 2009 [1 favorite]


Heh. Yep. I'm starting them from seed indoors and then moving them outside in April. Whaddaya think I am? An idjit?

I thought I'd point it out, if only because my neighbor at the community garden last year insisted on planting his tomatoes, peppers and eggplant by the calendar date instead of nighttime temps, and they all got early blight. This was someone who has been growing vegetables for a couple of years, so it's not necessarily idjits that get excited about tomatoes and plant them early. He actually thought I was an idjit for waiting until early May to set out my plants, but by the end of June they were twice as large as his.
posted by oneirodynia at 2:14 PM on February 2, 2009


Gardengate.
posted by kcds at 2:22 PM on February 2, 2009


the reality is that food is always going to be trucked into some places, and industrialized practices can be vastly more efficient (for lots of reasons) than a million tiny farms.

Except it isn't.

In Deep Economy, Bill McKibben writes:
...for all its flaws, the food system we have now manages to more or less feed most of the earth's population. If we didn't have vast factory farms, if we didn't have superefficient agriculture, then we'd starve. ...There are still 800 million hungry people to feed. ...We're in a box.

Or are we? This is a key point: we assume, because it makes a certain kind of intuitive sense, that industrialized farming is the most productive farming. I mean, if I sit on my porch whittling toothpicks with my Swiss Army knife, I can produce a hundred in a day. If I install a toothpick-whittling machine, I can produce a thousand in an hour. By analogy, a vast Midwestern field filled with high-tech equipment ought to produce more food than someone with a hoe in a small garden. As it turns out, however, this simply isn't true. If all you are worried about is the greatest yield per acre, then smaller farms produce more food. Which, if you think about it some more, makes sense. If you are one guy on a tractor responsible for thousands of acres, then you grow your corn and that's all you can do: one pass after another with the gargantuan machines across your sea of crop. But if you're working on ten acres, then you have time to really know the land, and to make it work harder. You can intercrop all kinds of plants: their roots go to different depths, or they thrive in each other's shade, or they make use of different nutrients in the soil....Does this sound like hippie nonsense? According to the most recent USDA Census of Agriculture, smaller farms produce far more food per acre, whether you measure in tons, calories, or dollars. They use land, water, and oil much more efficiently; if they have animals, the manure is a gift, not a threat to public health. ...

....But if this is true, why don't we have more small farms? Why the relentless consolidation? There are many reasons, including the way farm subsidies have been structured, the big guys' easier access to bank loans, and the convenience for politically connected food processors of dealing with a few big operations. But the basic reason is this: we have substituted oil for people. The small farm grows more food per acre, but only because it uses more people per acre -- low-input farming in Great Britian employs twice as many people per acre, according to a 2005 study. Since World War I, it has been cheaper to use oil than to use people. Cheap oil has meant synthetic fertilizer, big tractors, and everything else we associate with modern agriculture. You get more food per acre with small farms; more food per dollar with big ones.
So if we're concerned about global yield, policy should head more in the direction of efficient, localized smaller farms and less in the direction of crop and oil subsidies for factory farms. And farms use double the staff? What? An industry with the capacity to double employment in every region of the country? Doesn't sound so bad in this economy. The problem, of course, is the expense of using this labor at fair wagers - but food is going to get more expensive either way, whether because we produce it responsibly or because we pay more for the oil needed to produce it, hold it, and move it over long distances. One change that's coming, like it or not, is that American food prices are going to rise. But given an inevitable rise, it makes a huge difference where we decide to invest that money - in environmentally sustainable, high-employment, crop-diverse, and high-yield scattered local farms, or in continued subsidies, consolidation, and fuel dependence.

I agree with you that Pollan doesn't need to be near policy discussions. A lot of people misunderstand that Pollan is first a foremost a reporter - a very smart and very dedicated science reporter with a mission to get information out to the people in digestible form - but a reporter nonetheless. However, he doesn't need to be a policymaker. He comes by his views because of the extensive time he has spent talking to and listening to policymakers whose understanding of agriculture is immune to challenges of naivete. It is those people and their reports, and not Pollan as a writer, who you'd need to refute if you wished to mount a challenge to the facts in his reporting or the conclusions he draws.
posted by Miko at 3:10 PM on February 2, 2009 [7 favorites]


This boggles my fucking mind. Clotheslines are the ultimate symbol of suburban family life the world over. You get the sunshine for fucking free. Hang your clothes out in it. Personally, I feel embarrassed when I do use the clothes dryer, thinking about the massive amount of energy I'm wasting and noise I'm making.

We looked at our power bills last winter (with a then 8 month old) went "Fuck me", and have spent summer hanging the laundry out of fine days. While our power bills have no doubt fallen in part due to less heating and lighting, and some other power saving habits (is it really that hard to remember to power off the amp overnight? No, no it isn't) it's probably the single biggest contributor to dropping a few hundred bucks a month back in the bank account.
posted by rodgerd at 3:29 PM on February 2, 2009


So if we're concerned about global yield, policy should head more in the direction of efficient, localized smaller farms

Perhaps basing an analysis of agriculture of the US is not the right place to start. You could try countries than run low- or no- subsidy agriculture.
posted by rodgerd at 3:34 PM on February 2, 2009


"Victory Garden"? Jesus Christ.
posted by turgid dahlia at 4:08 PM on February 2, 2009


A Presidential vegetable garden? Really???

"Say, does this arugula taste funny to you?"

"Now that you mention it, yeah, kinda. What is that unusual aftertaste?"

"I think maybe there's some tarragon in the dressing."

"No, that's not it... Hmm..."

"Oh! I know! Ricin!"

"Awww, that's totally it! Ricin!"

*everyone dies*
posted by Sys Rq at 4:18 PM on February 2, 2009


boutique agriculture that makes him and his social class feel connected to the land

I really don't get the animosity toward people who shop at farmer's markets and participate in CSAs. I'm not under any illusion that CSAs could feed the world, but I think there's value in buying organic, local produce. Does that really make me a class snob?

I get healthy, fresh vegetables. The local economy gets a boost. Maybe the 'burbs get a little more greenspace as demand causes capacity to expand. Maybe the availability of local produce increases so that more people can access it. Why does that make you angry?
posted by diogenes at 4:39 PM on February 2, 2009 [1 favorite]


How do you have industrialized agriculture which is socially just and enviromentally sustainable.

Repeating what emjaybee said.
posted by P.o.B. at 5:41 PM on February 2, 2009 [1 favorite]


Linking itself in such a clear way to previous economic difficulties would probably give the impression of a grim outlook on the administration's part.

Ok, how about linking it to a step toward curing this nation's out of control obesity? It's not just the economy that's fucking crippling this nation, our horrible diet is contributing to skyrocketing health care costs and the purchasing of vegetables from 3k miles away is contributing to global warming which will eventually kill us all no matter what happens with the economy. It's all interconnected. Plant the fucking garden Obama. Get a guy named Chauncy to take care of it and listen to his sage advice.
posted by any major dude at 6:10 PM on February 2, 2009 [1 favorite]


You could try countries than run low- or no- subsidy agriculture.

But only if they're using high-yield, efficient, environmentally sustainable practices similar to those practiced on the most modern US small mixed-crop farms. Otherwise their low yields, impacts, pest problems, etc will not compare favorably to industrialization - whereas good farming really does.
posted by Miko at 6:36 PM on February 2, 2009


Great image of ex-president George W. Bush interacting with the Victory Garden on, uh, Memorial Day, or something.
posted by turgid dahlia at 7:52 PM on February 2, 2009 [1 favorite]


"I wonder how poisoned the White House surrounding soil must be from years of using the strongest chemical fertilizers known to man to keep the grass so green and weed free for so long."

The worst problem turning turf into garden is all the left behind turf bugs living in the soil that attack your vegetables. Takes a few years to get rid of them. Fertilizers for the most part either break down or leech away (or both). Pesticides could be a problem, especially on a lawn that has been in existence for so long. I'd imagine a little testing would let them know if there is a problem.

"small scale produce farms are not going to feed manhattan, much like they won't feed Cuba, or Japan. They are something which is easy to feel good about"

So if something isn't the be-all end-all solution to a problem it's not worth pursuing? The best frozen peas I ever tasted in my life came out of my garden this year. Taste alone makes replacing turf with vegetables worth while. I spend less time annually maintaining my garden than I do maintaining my grass. Luckily I soon won't have much in the way of lawn except under my fruit trees and a small patch for the kids to play on.

"The next logical step would be to get rid of the clothes dryers and just hang the washing on lines in the Rose Garden."

You say that like it's a bad thing.
posted by Mitheral at 7:59 PM on February 2, 2009


and the boutique agriculture that makes him and his social class feel connected to the land, looks like what agriculture means to them... etc.

Hmm. There's a local urban gardening group here in Oakland whose mission is to bring healthy food into neighborhoods that are only served by liquor stores. They farm on small urban plots, and teach people how to grow vegetables in their own backyard. They've recently acquired acreage in Sunol and started a CSA that sells pricier boxes to people who can afford it in order to subsidize boxes of produce for people who can't. I can't connect to People's Grocery website right now, but here's a bit about them on Global Oneness.

In Detroit, which suffers from even more of a problem with only liquor stores, or no stores at all to serve urban neighborhoods, there are hundreds of urban gardens.

This isn't boutique agriculture, this is people growing food that they have no opportunity to buy. Sure, the urban gardening movement is being overrun by entrepreneurs who recognize middle class America's propensity to buy itself into soothing environmental stances, but there is a very real food security education effort going on in cities that is teaching people how to have some control over the food they eat, their health, and their environment.
posted by oneirodynia at 8:18 PM on February 2, 2009 [6 favorites]


vytae: This idea is vaguely unsettling to me, too. Let the man run the country, while his highly-educated and intelligent wife digs around in the dirt to grow dinner?

Well, at the moment, the man was the one elected to be President, and First Ladies aren't elected officials involved in running the government. They aren't co-presidents or a tag team. As a highly-educated and intelligent woman who digs around in the dirt to grow dinner for my family, I found your comment to be vaguely unsettling, as if digging in the dirt and growing things should be beneath her, and she should be doing better things with her time.

Maybe if the whole family worked on it together once a month...

Then it would be a monthly photo op taking credit for other people's work, because a garden requires more than monthly attention. If it'd just be a photo op, I'd rather it not be done at all.

I don't think a huge farm is such a great idea, but a small garden the likes of which anyone might be able to have in their own yard would be a great idea to promote people doing so themselves. And people should be doing this themselves. Even educated and intelligent people. There are so many benefits on both a personal and community/society level. But only if they want to do it, because gardening is hell if you don't enjoy it.

turgid dahlia: "Victory Garden"? Jesus Christ.

What's wrong with Victory Gardens?
posted by Orb at 3:03 AM on February 3, 2009


-------------------------------------
| Carrots
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| Peas
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| Tomatoes
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| Infrared Sensors
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| Beans
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| Spinach
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| Surface-to-air Missiles
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| Sunflowers
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posted by CynicalKnight at 9:39 AM on February 3, 2009 [2 favorites]


Orb: As a highly-educated and intelligent woman who digs around in the dirt to grow dinner for my family, I found your comment to be vaguely unsettling, as if digging in the dirt and growing things should be beneath her, and she should be doing better things with her time.

I know, I found it unsettling to say, too, and I did not mean to offend. I am also a highly-educated and intelligent woman who enjoys gardening. I guess the point for me is that I choose to do it because I enjoy the process and find the results worthwhile. That seems different to me than having Michelle garden because her spouse got elected and she's therefore the default person to send a message to the country about self-sufficiency and agriculture. Michelle choosing to have a garden = awesome. Michelle being told to grow a garden for political reasons = no better than a once-a-month photo-op (in my opinion).
posted by vytae at 6:18 PM on February 3, 2009


Why not make it Sasha and Malia's message? It is not only possible, but powerful, to speak intelligently and importantly to & through kids.
posted by unregistered_animagus at 8:30 PM on February 5, 2009


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