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Sowing the Seeds of Change

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Having planted an organic vegetable garden and seen the impact on my own family, I feel a kinship of spirit toward Michelle Obama that seems to grow day-by-day. That this woman has put on the national agenda the very things that mean so much to me is exhilarating beyond words. Certainly, the President has serious issues to contend with, but in my book, his wife is taking on a project of equal significance. After all, what is the good of resuscitating the diseased economy if we're not also working to ensure the health of the planet and the children who will inherit it?

That this woman has put on the national agenda the very things that mean so much to me is exhilarating beyond words! Certainly, the President has serious issues to contend with, but in my book, his wife is taking on a project of equal significance. After all, what is the good of resuscitating the diseased economy if we're not also working to ensure the health of the planet and the children who will inherit it?

Gardens (particularly organic ones which are pesticide-free and which count on symbiotic relationships between and among plants and insects) are wonderful metaphors for lots of "deep" concepts. Such a garden could represent world peace: nations working together harmoniously and people of different faiths and ideologies co-habitating with tolerance and mutual respect. It could also stand for charity and sharing: every species thrives, not in spite of its neighbor, but because the plant next-door protects it from predators and, in turn, the first plant deposits nutrients into the communal soil. It could also represent the universality of the human experience: an organic garden is not simply a collection of living vegetation, but rather the entire garden is an organism whose strength is measured by the health of its weakest seedling. That said, a garden doesn't have to be a metaphor for anything else -- it is tremendously valuable simply being what it is. And a garden is possibly the greatest gift to give your children.

A garden is the ideal classroom to teach kids about their responsibilities to each other and to their environment. What better way to show children that their lives need not leave a trail of refuse that will outlast even their future offspring? They can see that "self-sustaining" agriculture can harness nature, celebrating its bounty while depleting none of its vitality.

For millions of kids who live in urban areas, the concept of a vegetable or a piece of fruit probably conjures an image of a grocery store (or sometimes even a can of food). The connection between a "crop" and how it was grown and harvested is all but lost for them, as the majority of produce in this country is conventionally (non-organically) grown, often using genetically-modified seeds and even cloning, is a travesty. But when a child tills soil, plants a seed, tends and waters it and ultimately harvests its fruit, it is the experience of being part of the creation of food. That child will probably have a greater appreciation of and respect for food grown in the earth, and will become more likely to be excited about including fruit and vegetables in his or her own diet.

This is more than a charming lesson about Mother Nature; the stakes are alarmingly high. Childhood Obesity is out of control in this country, and the condition is now ranked as an "Epidemic" by health agencies. One of the more dangerous results of our current financial crisis is that families looking to cut costs are turning to cheaper foods, which, by definition, are the least healthy options. This is deeply disturbing, and we simply cannot afford to allow the health risks faced by children to increase. The statistics are already shockingly high, with obese children making up 16% of the population ages 6-19 (source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention http://www.cdc.gov/nccdphp/dnpa/obesity/), and at risk for serious, life-long threats such as coronary heart disease, Type 2 diabetes, cancers (endometrial, breast and colon), Hypertension (high blood pressure), dyslipidemia, stroke, liver and gallbladder disease, sleep apnea and respiratory problems, osteoarthritis and gynecological problems (source: same).

Mrs. Obama has courageously put a stake in the ground (literally and figuratively!), placing value and importance on organic gardening. She says she is doing this as much for her own children as for others, which is what makes her crusade all the more touching. At her core, she is a mother seeking to teach her girls what matters most, and how they can be a part of maintaining and improving their world. And so, I will regard the White House Garden as another nation monument, on par with all the famous edifices in our nation's capital, and it will represent so many noble ideals ... as well as being simply a place to grow a delicious, healthy salad!

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