Sunday, March 22, 2009

V is for Vegetable!

I've been saying for years now (mostly to myself) that what America needs, now more than ever, is more Victory Gardens. Call me a hippie-wack-tree-hugging-granola-fiend, but I can't think of a better, inexpensive family or individual activity that accomplishes the terrifically relevant ambitions of getting dirty while using almost no dirty energy, being more healthy, exploring carbon sequestration and nutrient cycling, getting to know your own micro-ecosystem while making it a better place, understanding more of God and nature....etc., etc....than to plant a small garden.

So while I have a hard time wrapping my brain around giant Keynesian economic stimuli, matters of national security, and whether world leaders will make appropriate decisions at the Copenhagen climate meeting later this year, there is one decision of this presidency that I can solidly support: the tillage of soil that began last Friday in preparation for an organic vegetable and flower garden on the South Lawn of the White House. Publicity stunt? Maybe. Sure, there was a photo op: the first lady with a shovel; the first lady surrounded by little kids. And they made sure the garden will be visible from the street. But when I look more closely at the details, I realize this garden was planned carefully, thoughtfully. First, it's 1100 square feet. That's a sizable garden, easily enough for, say, 200 salads a year, with plenty of time and room for a healthy rotation of compost. Then there's the well-designed layout of the garden: simple and functional, with central pathways lined by low-lying flowers.Those flowers are well-chosen, robust, fast-growing. They will attract both birds and insects, and round out the diversity and ecological balance of the place. (I know, totally designed by a granola head, right?) What's more, the nasturtiums are edible, and the marigolds are a natural nematicide, and the zinnias make a great cut flower. Now look at the selection of vegetables and herbs. Where's the iconic sweet corn (which requires so much space and nutrient input for very little yield)? Where are the giant sunflowers (ditto)? Every garden has them, right? Nope, not this garden. You'll notice that most every plant and variety on the map is delicious, leafy and green, and can be eaten nearly in its entirety, raw, no cooking preparation required. Michael Pollan will be proud. The peas are an exception: while you can't eat an entire pea plant, peas are legumes that make natural nitrogen fertilizer for the rest of the garden. Brilliant!

Oh, then there's the recognition that the White House kitchen scraps will be composted into the garden. And the two bee hives. And Michelle Obama's insistence that the whole family be involved. And this is the first time since WWII that this has happened! Make us proud, Obamas. Make us proud.

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