The White House will now have a 'permanent' kitchen garden

by Derek Markham (@derekmarkham)
Living / Lawn & Garden
October 6, 2016

Michelle Obama White House Kitchen Garden.
Public Domain Official White House Photo by Amanda Lucidon A $2.5 million donation to the National Park Foundation will keep Michelle Obama's Kitchen Garden legacy alive for years to come.

In "it's about time" news, the White House may be getting a 'permanent' kitchen garden on the premises, which is intended to build on and develop the initiative started by First Lady Michelle Obama in 2009. Using the national symbol of governance to educate and inspire people to grow some of the their own food is a laudable effort, and one which has a lot of potential.

"This garden represents the transformational change we’ve seen in just the past six and a half years, as well as our collective hopes for growing a healthier nation for our children." - First Lady Michelle Obama

It will be a legacy of Michelle Obama's time in the White House, a manifestation of her "crazy idea that what if we planted a garden on the White House lawn to start a conversation about where our food comes from and how it impacts our children’s health" that began to take root even before President Obama was first elected. This Kitchen Garden could serve the future residents of that dwelling for many years to come by providing fresh local homegrown produce, and could also serve as an educational and outreach tool that furthers the original goal.

"As I said back when we first launched Let’s Move!, this is a generational challenge. But this garden has taught us that if we have the courage to plant a seed, just be brave enough to plant it, then take care of it, water it, tend to it, invite friends to help us take care of it, weather the storms that inevitably come, if we have the courage to do that, we never know what might grow. Now that's what this garden has taught me, to be fearless in those efforts, to try some new things, to not be afraid to mess up. Things we tell our kids all the time." - First Lady Michelle Obama

The reason I say "it's about time" is because after the last decade or so of revived interest in local food production and consumption, it's still only a small venture. In fact, it's tiny. It's a token amount of ground when you take into consideration the number of people who live and work at that 18-acre location, which also has tennis courts, a basketball court, a putting green, and more. The current, expanded size of the White House Kitchen Garden is 2800 square feet, which is more than double the size of the original garden, and it has been successfully growing food (about 2,000 pounds of food each year) for the First Family and various official events, and donating excess food to a local shelter and soup kitchen. However, I can't help but imagine what it would be like if there was double or triple the amount of gardening space on the grounds, with an emphasis on kickstarting a national gardening and home food production initiative. Now, I'm not knocking the First Lady's efforts, as she's clearly made progress and set some great precedents with the garden and with her Let's Move child obesity initiative, but there is a lot more work to be done, which could easily build on those efforts.

Maybe in addition to the White House hosting science fair winners and tech leaders to visit and honor, future administrations will invite farmers and orchardists and permaculturists of all stripes to discuss how soil health and water quality and the food supply chain are vital to the future of national security. Perhaps we'll see waste-to-resources business leaders applauded, and more ambitious sustainable agriculture programs will be funded, and schools will all have their own gardens and composting systems. Maybe local renewable energy generation and clean cars and distributed energy storage will be highlighted. Imagine National Orchards on the grounds of every public property. Honeybee hives and mushroom logs everywhere!

Sorry, I got carried away with optimistic daydreams there. The potential future of Michelle Obama's garden really depends on who wins the Presidential race this year, because although the Kitchen Garden is on a National Park Service property (the White House is in President’s Park, which is a National Park), and a $2.5 million donation from the Burpee Foundation and the W. Atlee Burpee Company will fund it for the next 17 years, it's up to the residents of the White House as to how they choose to engage with it. If it's Hillary Clinton who moves in, with First Man Bill, then I think there's a good chance that it will be used and promoted as a food, health, and nutrition showcase. On the other hand, if it's Donald and Melania, I'm thinking not so much. Unless you could grow some fast food, I suppose.


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