There are many reasons I admire First Lady Michelle Obama—her intelligence and grace, her strong command of shade, and her commitment to food security just to name a few. Both praised and criticized for her commitment to encouraging kids to eat healthier, she led the initiative to have a proper veggie garden planted at the White House, a move that surely made our Founding Fathers, who were in fact “founding gardeners,” smile.
She’s upped the ante, making the garden a bit more permanent by adding hardscaped features—concrete, stone and steel—to the garden. And, after the Obamas leave office, the National Park Service will continue to maintain it with the help of a $2.5 million private fund.
“I take great pride in knowing that this little garden will live on as a symbol of the hopes and dreams we all hold of growing a healthier nation for our children,” Obama said in an emotional speech Wednesday afternoon as she dedicated the garden before an audience of advocates, food industry leaders and others who have helped with Let’s Move!, her signature childhood obesity campaign.
I have no doubt that the conservative right will see this as a slight; as some part of communist/socialist/fascist (because to them, they’re all the same right?) move. While the next administration could tear it up, the hardscape elements would make it more of a challenge. However, if anyone attempts to bulldoze the garden, it would be an un-American act.
You see, our Founding Fathers were avid gardeners. In the book, Founding Gardeners by Andrea Wulf, America’s first leaders were all about gardening. Jefferson and Adams would visit gardens and share knowledge and tips with botanists while they were in Europe on State business. Adams and I seem to share the same sentiment when dealing with long meetings an work obligations—F*** this, where’s the nearest garden?
Both Washington and Adams tried to bring agriculture to the forefront of the young country’s political agenda. When Hamilton proposed the country follow an industrial path, with commerce and trade at the forefront of the economy, Madison strongly resisted, arguing (along with Jefferson) that America should be an agrarian republic. Jefferson was highly suspicious of those who gained wealth through speculation, seeing agriculture as far more useful.
Washington, Adams, Jefferson and Madison all sought refuge in their natural environments—their gardens—when the pressures of running a country became too much. This is what we should remember when the right wing attacks Mrs. Obama—and they will, just watch—for taking this step to preserve the garden. Rather than a “commie pinko” idea, continuing the legacy of the garden is the most American thing one can do. In addition to showing people how to feed themselves and encouraging them to eat better, it brings us back to the original ideals of the Founders we praise. They fought for freedom from tyranny, and part of fighting that tyranny is being able to feed yourself from your own garden, whether you have a plot in the yard or a spot in a community garden.
One day, when the kids are a bit older and can appreciate the trip, I’d like to see the White House Garden myself, so I can get some gardening tips and inspiration to take back to my own garden. After all, it’s what the Founding Fathers would have done.