Monday, April 13, 2009

Organic Grumbling

I talk about planting a vegetable garden every year. I have a dreamy vision of myself in the cool of a summer morning, out in the lush patch of herbs and veggies that I've watered and fed and loved into being. I see thin and healthy people, happy and satisfied at the dinner table. I ponder recipes for fresh salsa, herb steamed fish, and homemade pickles. I imagine this project as the start of genuine sustainability and responsibility in my life. Alas...planting season has come and almost gone, once again...and there is no vegetable garden. It's probably just as well. Because that deep longing I have for sustainable growth right outside my back door does not come with a yearning to study good gardening practices, or to dig, or to pluck funky looking bugs off the backsides of leaves. It's just the picking and eating that sounds like fun to me. You may call me a friend of the Little Red Hen. We should all pause for a moment to think about how often we want only sowing. I'm thinking about gardening today not because I'm in a mood to ponder my wistful nature, but because I am proud that Michelle Obama has made good on an intention to grow some food in the yard. The yard, of course, is the White House lawn. The garden is a collaborative project between the First Lady, a 5th grade class from a Washington, DC elementary school, the US Secretary of Agriculture, and at least a handful of White House staff. This, I thought, is the garden of my dreams. A staffed garden. (Mrs. Obama does say everyone - even the president - will pull weeds). Kudos to the country's First Mother for wanting her daughters, along with a classroom full of other kids, to see where healthy food comes from and what it takes to grow it. For starters, the 5th graders seemed surprised to find out 55 kinds of organic vegetables in 1,100 square feet of dirt costs about $200 to plant. When Mrs. Obama asked the students what they thought the supplies to create the garden cost, one student apparently said $100,000. Of course, not to be factored into the cost of the White House kitchen garden is a "crop protection product" ... aka pesticide. In case you missed it, this is an organic garden. No chemicals. So, here's the best part of the gardening news...the Mid America CropLife Association is up in arms over the absence of the latest in crop protection technologies. The executive director of MACA sent the First Lady a 900 word letter encouraging a more All-American approach to the garden than organic:
As you go about planning and planting the White House garden, we respectfully encourage you to recognize the role conventional agriculture plays in the U.S in feeding the ever-increasing population, contributing to the U.S. economy and providing a safe and economical food supply. America's farmers understand crop protection technologies are supported by sound scientific research and innovation.
Oh my! Can it be that we can't even have a vegetable garden at the White House without choosing sides and throwing, um, tomatoes? Really - is there something unAmerican about an organic garden? I doubt my great grandmother thought she was being an unconventional liberal when she tilled homemade compost into the dirt in Southern Illinois, or when she sent the grand kids into the garden to pull squash bugs off the zucchini. Here's what seems most organic to me these days - the apparent human need to whine and blame and grumble. It's growing faster than the dandelions in my front yard. Is there a crop protection product for that? Head to your yard. Kick off your shoes. Wiggle your toes in some cool dirt. Breathe. Let the grumbling go, not grow. Peace.

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