It was another unintended consequence of our recent government shutdown: the White House Kitchen Garden was wrecked. Weeds took root, ripe produce rotted and critters ran amok.
According to Obama Foodorama, a blog highlighting White House food initiatives, the Obamas' famed South Lawn veggie patch was another victim of our government's mandate for "minimal maintenance" during the shutdown. Nobody was around to pull weeds, harvest the bounty of ripe produce, or to chase away the feasting squirrels (and one wily fox) that roamed the grounds for weeks.
The mouldering garden opened my eyes to something that didn't settle well with my stomach: why weren't the Obamas tending the fruits and vegetables themselves? Fortunately, the government sputtered to life again last week, and we can rest assured this First Veggie Patch will be tended to with great care again. Just not Presidential care.
"Now hold on!" you object. "The President has urgent domestic and worldly affairs to attend to! Now is not the time to don a pair of clogs and go traipsing through a garden!"
But nothing would deliver a clearer message about the importance of fresh produce (and how that produce is produced) than the our nation's leader plucking some weeds and harvesting the ripe squash from the garden himself. Not only that, but gardening can help bolster our leader's popularity among us common folk. President Obama can't shake the charge that he is elitist. Having government staff tend to your personal vegetable patch does little to bolster his desire to be the people's President.
Want the public to accept your food initiatives, Mr. President? Then get out on the South Lawn and show us how much you value garden-fresh fruits and vegetables.
Working the garden does more than improve the President's diet and public relations. It will nourish his mind and soul as well. Gardening allows one to decompress. It's an activity to calm the nerves and release the tension. Last month, President Obama was criticized by Republicans (again) for spending too much time on the golf course.
One notable Republican disagreed.
Former President George W. Bush came to Obama's defense, arguing the President "ought to play golf." He wisely noted that golf provides an outlet to escape the pressures of the Presidency. Bush alluded that, indeed, we don't want a President making decisions under constant stress and anxiety. I agree.
Having enjoyed both gardening and golf for years, I can say gardening provides all the stress relief, time for introspection and spiritual uplift that golf does. The garden is also more accessible than the golf course, and arguably more cost-effective therapy -- a prudent endeavor considering our hobbled budget.
I also found gardening provides better bonding opportunities for the family. Food is fun and something each of us can get excited about. Michelle, Malia and Sasha may not share dad's enthusiasm for golf -- but who doesn't get excited about pulling fresh carrots from the ground?
I believe President Obama is serious about improving the American diet. And I believe he is also wary of how the bulk of our food is produced in this country. But I want him to show me and the rest of America.
The seeds of food reform were planted along with your garden. But when that garden goes to seed, so does your food values. So get out in your garden, Mr. President. With trowel and basket in hand, show us how vital locally grown fruits and vegetables are to the health and happiness of our families and our nation.