I spent this weekend visiting one of my sisters in Washington, DC, and it made me think about the different ways that DC specifically impacts sustainability. Each city or town has its own unique ways in which it impacts issues concerning food and sustainability. Obviously, a lot of policy takes place in Washington. But, in addition to the politics, the actions of the Obamas, as one of the most influential families in the country, make a big impact on American culture in general, and their eating habits and the source of their food has the ability to influence the eating habits of many Americans. Being in DC made me want to learn more about the Obama’s’ vegetable garden, why it was built, and how it’s been received by the public since it was planted in 2009.
The garden has over 55 types of vegetables and fruits that are incorporated into meals for the first family and guests of the white house, while another portion of that food is donated to the local soup kitchen and the Food Bank Organization. Among those 55 vegetables are favorite foods of former presidents. (Sadly, not among those foods are beets, which are one of my own personal favorite vegetables, but apparently not a favorite of our president. Dwight Schrute would be so disappointed.) Their garden also includes a beehive for honey. I was happy to learn that Michelle Obama herself is one of the gardeners responsible for the early stages of the garden, as well as a group of fifth graders from Bancroft Elementary School in Washington.
As for why the Obamas decided to grow this vegetable garden, the first lady has said that it was largely out of concern for her daughters’ nutrition. According to Michelle Obama, educating the next generation about healthy eating habits and eating local is key to a healthier future for America. For a time, the garden did spark a debate between “conventional” and organic farmers. Groups that represent conventional farmers spoke out about the message that they believed that garden was sending, arguing that foods grown using pesticides and chemical fertilizers can be nutritious and healthy too. However, while the White House garden does not use chemicals, it is not USDA certified organic. The reasoning given for that is that the point of the garden was not to get into a debate over farming types and labels. (For more information about this issue, see this article). Overall, it seems the message behind the garden was not to advocate for conventional or organic gardening as better than the other, but to advocate for eating locally and for children, like Sasha and Malia Obama, eating more nutritious, balanced diets.