I could not be more excited about our soon-to-be first family. Like many Americans I like the pomp of an inauguration (whichever party is in power) and I enjoy discussing what the first lady will wear, what will their living quarters look like? What kind of dog will they get?
But there is one question that I must take a position on: DO NOT GET RID OF THE WHITE HOUSE LAWN AND PUT IN SOME KIND OF GIANT VEGETABLE GARDEN.
I have read in a prominent newspaper that a coalition of citizens are traveling across country to the inauguration to plead with our President-elect to include an orchard and vegetable garden on the South Lawn, that can sustain his family and friends in these tough economic times- and maybe donate the excess to a homeless shelter.
Frankly, this makes no sense. Leaving aside the issue that fruit trees take years to mature, and as anyone who has ever read The $64 Tomato knows, vegetable gardens are not the cheapest way to feed a family. With the economy in tatters, installing an expensive vegetable garden on the White House lawn, which the public does not have access to, seems like the ultimate in wastefulness. Wouldn’t the money be better spent supporting local agriculture in the MD/DC/VA area? Wouldn’t it be better to help preserve existing farmland on the edge of the Bo-Wash corridor so that urban sprawl doesn’t eat up more land?
Obviously, a small little plot that grows sweet corn (although my husband, a a former farmer, thinks you need quite a large plot to grow sweet corn), tomatoes and pumpkins could be easily integrated into the existing White House landscape if the first family wanted to teach their children about how things grow. I would assume that one of the many areas that are more secluded on the South Lawn would be a great place for this. And a few fruit trees would probably not add too much to the gardener’s burden- I’d bet there might already be some on the property. If we are really talking about change, I’d say get rid of the red salvias and dusty miller that ring the fountain on the North Lawn and plant a mixed perennial border. Heaven knows that we have to look at the North Lawn every night on the news, that might actually enhance the gorgeous old building.
But to me the image of a White House that is forced to farm provokes a visceral response: some of us out here in the middle of America have an image of the White House (the building and its grounds, not the institution), not as a farm, but as the home of our leader. I see farms all the time, I rarely see the home of our President. Let farmers farm- they do it best, and let leaders lead.
Can you imagine what would happen if the President’s crops failed? Or were attacked by pests or disease? This happens to normal gardeners all the time– but for us, it is not a symbolic indicator of our nation’s health. Were the president’s crops to fail on the South Lawn of the White House, the world would be able to see the toppled corn, virusy tomatoes and sluggy squashes at one of the most visited sites in our nation’s capitol.
If we want to build a National Vegetable Garden, we should put it some place where gardeners, children and the eaters of America can actually use it. And then donate all the produce to pantries. The First Family and White House Staff have enough to do without spending all of August canning tomatoes and putting up jam like the rest of the country’s vegetable gardeners.