Back at about this time in January, we wrote a review of Eat The View, the from-the-ground-up activist effort to get the Obama White House to break ground on a vegetable garden in front of the White House (perhaps a bit early in the year, but a well-intentioned effort nonetheless).
One month later, over 60,000 people have signed the Eat The View petition, and there are over 1,700 members of the Eat The View site. What have they actually achieved, though? Has President Obama agreed to create a vegetable garden in the White House lawn yet? Nope.
There has been an effort to establish gardens at facilities of the Department of Agriculture, in Washington D.C. and around the world, though. That’s nice, but what kind of gardens are they? A sign of what these gardens will look like came from Michelle Obama’s symbolic gift of a seedling of a White House magnolia tree for the new garden at the headquarters of the USDA. A magnolia tree creates heavy shade, under which it’s impossible to grow much of anything, and certainly not vegetables. It looks as if these Department of Agriculture gardens are primarily ornamental.
That conclusion is supported by a press release from Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, which describes the Department of Agriculture gardens as intended to exhibit “landscaping and building design to retain water and reduce runoff; roof gardens for energy efficiency; utilizing native plantings and using sound conservation practices.” Nowhere are vegetables mentioned. The only place where food is referred to in the press release is in terms of the role that pollinators play in food production. Having flowers around can be good for pollinators, to be sure, but only if the flower gardens aren’t treated with chemicals that are dangerous to the pollinators.
Ornamental gardens are environmentally preferable to lawns sprayed with herbicides and pesticides, but ornamental gardens can be fairly heavy consumers of these poisons as well. Nowhere in the USDA press release does it mention that the gardens will be grown organically. Given the connections of the Department of Agriculture to the producers of synthetic chemicals for gardens, it’s safe to assume that those kinds of chemicals will be used – hardly a sustainable practice.
It looks like the people behind Eat The View have a long way to go before the Obama Administration will begin to recognize and implement its important ideas on the reintegration of food into the everyday American landscape.