White House Garden Is Lovely But Not Magic

Kansas Viewpoint

The problem with the beautiful White House garden is that it makes gardening look too easy

Published on: April 26, 2010
The North American Ag Journalists visited First Lady Michelle Obama's kitchen garden at the White House this morning and I have to admit it is a beautiful garden -- almost too beautiful.

I say that because it is easy for people to think, looking at the lush beds of lettuce, chard, spinach, broccoli, cauliflower and mustard greens leaping out of the earth, that gardening is easy. You turn the soil, plant the seed and harvest.

Well, there is a lot in between.

White House assistant chef Sam Kass, who talked with us about the garden, was charming and enthusiastic about gardening. But, when asked, he admitted that there are a lot of man hours in that pristine garden. About 15 people who work at the
White House in other jobs don jeans on Tuesdays and come out to work in the garden because they like it, he said. There are probably a lot of home growers out there who would like a crew of 15 for an afternoon a week.

But, he said a lot of the work could be avoided in your average home garden because, after all, it is not going to be all over the press all the time and nobody is going to be judging how many weeds you have or how healthy your cabbage looks.

I'll give him that. But will the average person who joins the gardening movement expect that? Or be happy with undersized, worm-bitten cabbage and head lettuce that never "heads?"

I think seeing that pristine garden makes a lot of ordinary people think that's what they'll get if they till up a plot in their back yard, plant some seed and wait for harvest.

And it just isn't.

Chef Sam said the soil was "remediated" before the first planting last year. That means he said, that compost and nutrients were added.

He also made it darn clear to a couple of really persistent reporters that the White House garden is NOT an organic message, though no synthetic chemicals or fertilizers are used.

Nobody is suggesting that organic is better, healthier or safer, he said. The message is "eat vegetables" not "eat organic vegetables."

Not organic, never organic, he repeated when asked again. Yes, it takes three years for certification. No, it has not and will not be applied for. Why not?

Because, he said, that's not the point. This garden isn't about promoting organic but about teaching school children that veggies are good for you and taste good too. And you should eat them. And by the way, they grow in the ground and someone works very hard to plant them, weed them, water them and harvest them and you should appreciate those people.

Play it again, Sam.