Last summer, the General Assembly of the Unitarian Universalist Association voted in our annual meeting to devote four years of study and action to the theme of Ethical Eating.
Congregations, communities and individual UUs all over the United States are asking questions about food. Where does it come from? Who grows it? Who gets access and how? How do we eat? How do we cook? How do we share the bounty? What happens when people don’t have access to food? Vegan or compassionate omnivore? Is it better to eat locally or organically?
Which brings me back to the question posed in the title of this post: What do Michelle Obama and I have in common? Not a whole lot. But we do have yards at our homes. And in those yards, we will grow vegetables.
On Tuesday, Mrs. Obama announced that the groundskeepers of the White House compound will tear up a small portion of the lawn to grow an organic vegetable garden. Students from nearby Bancroft Elementary School will help break ground today.
This is quite the success for home gardeners everywhere who have been lobbying the President and First Lady for a kitchen garden at the White House. Famed Chef Alice Waters, whose restaurant Chez Panisse specializes in locally grown and sustainable food, was thrilled. Chef Waters was quoted by the AP saying,
It just tells you that this country cares about people’s good health and about the care of the land. To have this sort of ‘victory’ garden, this message goes out that everyone can grow a garden and have free food.
This is not the first time the White House has grown its own. During WWII, First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt grew a victory garden on the South Lawn. And before that, when the country was more agrarian, the White House grew much of its own food, including raising sheep that grazed on the White House Lawn.
Whether you call it urban farming, kitchen gardening, or victory gardening, growing your own fruits and vegetables is an incredibly rewarding experience. According to the New York Times, the White House Vegetable Garden will only cost $200 for compost and seeds. But the results will be worth a lot more than that. Fresh produce to be used in the White House kitchen, or my own, is a time and money saver. And when the bounty of summer comes, I like to give away my surplus vegetables to my neighbors.
In my neighborhood, the nearest food sources are bodegas, conveniences marts and corner stores. Here, you can occasionally find a hard, mealy, tomato or a soft, eye-ridden potato. Most everything else is frozen, bagged or in cans–high in salt, preservatives and sugar. The nearest grocery stores are a twenty minute walk. And the nearest farmer’s market is two neighborhoods over, a forty-five walk. This is difficult for folks who may be single parents, elderly, or on low incomes.
But by growing and sharing vegetables right out of my yard, I bring much needed fruits and vegetables to my street.
I applaud the Obamas for starting their own vegetable garden at the White House. I also think it is great Mrs. Obama insists the First Daughters will be the ones weeding. This will help the girls understand where their meals come from and the work involved in growing the food. But most of all, I thank the family for the wonderful example they are setting.