The Controversy of the (Organic) White House Garden

April 2nd, 2009


Photo credit: WordRidden

By now, many Americans are aware that  Michelle Obama has plans to plant a local organic vegetable garden at the White House.  While that sounds like a step in the right direction in terms of encouraging us to eat better and support organic farming, not everyone is convinced.

The ones who are not convinced this is what we should emulate are the industries that support “conventional” farming and food production.  Mid America CropLife Association (MACA) was alarmed at the First Lady’s plans to break ground at the White House organically, so they decided to send her a letter educating her on the importance of conventional farming.

As you go about planning and planting the White House garden, we respectfully encourage you to recognize the role conventional agriculture plays in the U.S in feeding the ever-increasing population, contributing to the U.S. economy and providing a safe and economical food supply. America’s farmers understand crop protection technologies are supported by sound scientific research and innovation.

It seems they also want to discourage farming and eating locally.

Local and conventional farming is not mutually exclusive. However, a Midwest mother whose child loves strawberries, a good source of Vitamin C, appreciates the ability to offer California strawberries in March a few months before the official Mid-west season.

The arguments the MACA made to discourage organic and local farming have to do with the need to keep food production as high as possible to feed as many Americans as possible.

With modern methods, 1 acre of land in the U.S. can produce 42,000 lbs. of strawberries, 110,000 heads of lettuce, 25,400 lbs. of potatoes, 8,900 lbs. of sweet corn, or 640 lbs of cotton lint.

I can understand this organization doesn’t want their business/industry to go down, but is their attitude really in our best  interest?  What if everyone started eating locally and adopted organic produce as a way of life?  Would it destroy the American agricultural industry?  Would people have less access to produce if local and organic production became policy?

What are your thoughts on this?

You can read the letter in its entirety here.

12 Responses to “The Controversy of the (Organic) White House Garden”

  1. LisaNewton says:

    To me, it’s all about a balance. Sure that mother would love to be able to give her child strawberries in March, but home grown strawberries in June is even better.

  2. I am not surprised at the reaction. Personally, I don’t mind paying more for organic. Organic is the most natural version of farming so it is kind of funny that it costs more. However, I think more farmers would make the switch if the cost went down but that will take time because there are people who claim organic is not better. So maybe if more people demand it, the cost will go down.

  3. Sagan says:

    Have to agree with Lisa- it’s about balance. You’ve asked a really interesting question here regarding the agriculture that I’d never considered before- thanks for that!

  4. Joe Ascanio says:

    I agree, Lisa. As consumers, we need to be able to logically sacrifice some of the comforts we have enjoyed in order to benefit the greater good, while educating ourselves to be self-sustaining.

  5. It’s interesting that traditional agriculture would seem to take “offense” at the organic White House garden. Certainly, traditional agricultural methods have been helpful in getting produce to areas where it might be difficult to grow, but there is just something about picking your own produce or eating produce that’s grown locally that’s different. It’s more satisfying. And like Lisa (above) said those strawberries you get from the grocery store in March aren’t anywhere near as good as the ones you actually pick in season. Interesting discussion – thanks!

  6. Wilson Pon says:

    Carla, I think Michelle Obama has becoming a good role and show us the good example of planting our own vegetable at house. I think we should take it and learn from Mrs. Obama!

  7. Lisa's Chaos says:

    It sounds like I would have more access to local stuff, at better prices too – but I live in Wi, short growing season and that leaves us with 2-3 months of fresh food and that’s it?

  8. Carla Rose says:

    @Lisa – I guess in a climate like yours, freezing and canning would come into play… but I’m not too sure.

    @Wilson – If we wasn’t so wishy washy about moving (to move or not to move) from our location, I would have started gardening. At least I can sprout for now.

    @Amanda – Living in California, I sometimes forget some of the limitations other places may have when it comes to fresh produce. I can see both sides of the coin.

    @Joe – I think we can all (at least try) to learn to be more self-sustaining.

    @Sagan – Thank you!

    @Nadia – I hope organic produce catches on more too. It has caught on in the past 20 years (from my own observations) but we still have a long ways to go.

    @LisaNewton – I totally agree!

  9. India says:

    I was not shocked when I heard this at a pea patch last night. I will share this with my students who are growing their own starts for the first time and have been amazed at how satisfying it is to grow plants. There is a documentary out called “The World According to Monsanto” that takes a profound look at the agribusiness model and philosophy. Nothing in the film contradicts the letter. The more we know- the more we can grow change.

  10. Gennaro says:

    I think it’s a great move on the part of the Obama’s. Practice what you preach. I also like that they’re going to bring the solar panels back to the White House.

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  12. Kwan says:

    Good job Obamas. And Yes! We surely can feed ourselves healthily and deliciously through sustainable, local agriculture. Cuba is doing it right now and most Americans used to keep home gardens before the 50s. Even ‘centralized’ slaughter houses and granaries used to be located locally and sourced to their own counties or state. The industry likes to criticize organic and sustainable ag. as backward, but its grown up since grandpa and ma and scientifically informed organic and/or sustainable ag is the future. I hope at least!
    .-= Kwan ´s last blog ..The White House Kitchen Garden =-.

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