Friday, April 17, 2009

A Hope Garden

The recent addition of a kitchen garden at the White House has brought the nation's attention to an old idea: self-sufficiency that is centered in the garden.  We have all heard the nostalgic news pieces recalling Eleanor Roosevelt's "Victory Garden" during wartime, and suddenly this new garden seems at once quaint, and with the label of organic, also modern.

What then, can we learn from this move toward growing one's own food? I was among the many thousands of petition-signing, letter-writing supporters of a White House garden that teared up at the sight of our First Lady uneasily wielding a shovel.  An admitted new gardener, she gamely took up her tools and got to work with an army of young children to transform a lawn into garden.  Many scorned her for "giving in" to special-interests, and she has now officially received a letter of rebuke from the nation's agricultural-chemical lobby for choosing to garden organically.

But what I and many others see in her simple action is the statement to our nation that food is important, where and how it's grown is important, and what our kids learn about that process from food to table cannot be explained by any adult.  It must be learned with hands in the soil, placing those seeds and watching them grow.  No amount of nutritional education will supply the life-long lesson they will gain from nurturing the plant to harvest, and turning that into dinner. 

From her example, many people of many backgrounds will be reminded that we take action in small ways on a daily basis, by selecting the food that fills our plate and feeds our kids.  If we choose to grow it, or buy it directly from our neighbors who farm, it is a small but insistent political voice saying we care where our food comes from.  

This week I planted my seed potatoes that will feed us in winter, and in the digging I thought about our First Lady.  These simple tubers are a potent symbol of sustenance and when they failed, famine.  May her example lead so many as during the campaign, to a revival of the hope found in a simple seed, and may many kitchen gardens follow.

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