Wednesday, June 17, 2009

The Story Behind the White House Garden

The seeds of the newly built White House kitchen garden were sown long before the Obama family arrived in the nation's capital last January.

In fact, the idea started the year before at a much smaller white house in Maine on a cold February day. Not the best time for outdoor gardening, but definitely a good time for making gardening plans.

To learn the history behind the White House food garden campaign - otherwise known as Eat the View - I turned to the man who helped make it all possible - Roger Doiron, founder of Kitchen Gardeners International.

Seasonal Wisdom (SW): How did you come up with the White House food garden idea?

Roger Doiron (RD):
First of all, I didn't actually come up with the idea: President John Adams did in 1800 as the White House's first First Resident. I knew the First Lawn had been an edible landscape in the past, both for animals and people, and that it wasn't such a far-fetched idea.

I also knew the idea of a White House food garden had been championed by two of the good food movement's rock stars, Michael Pollan and Alice Waters.

In thinking about my own call for a White House garden, I decided the idea didn't need another rock star as much as it needed a "roadie." In other words, someone who would work to make sure the amps and mics were on and cranked up to 10. That way the other voices - those of the people - could be heard.

SW: What did you want the White House food garden campaign to convey?

The message was simple - the White House is America's house and America's house should have a kitchen garden. That idea made sense before and, given the changing times, makes sense again.

Eat the View was about recognizing and celebrating our gardening past, but more importantly about building
a bridge to a sustainable and responsible future.

We were of course trying to influence the First Family, but we also wanted to offer an empowering and upbeat message to campaign supporters. We wanted them to realize that - regardless of what their elected officials do or don't do - they could "be the change" by growing some of their own food.

SW:When you heard the announcement about the White House garden, what was your first thought?

I was stunned because I was settling in for a longer campaign. I had spoken with a couple of the First Lady's senior staff members and knew the idea was being considered. Still I was surprised it moved as quickly as it did. After a few moments of joy and amazement, I went into a more strategic frame of mind in an effort to ride the media wave and get the word out as much as possible about growing your own food.

SW: What would you like to see accomplished with Food Independence Day?

RD: Food Independence Day is a similar effort. In this case, we're asking the governors - or nation's First Families - to lead and eat by example by sourcing their July 4th meals locally.

Given our organ
ization's limited financial resources and the tight timeframe, we're relying on people on the ground to find the best way of delivering this message to their first families. Learn how you can get involved.

Hopefully, we're get a few governors to play along with us. It's a great opportunity for these governors to show their commitment to farmers and food producers in their states. So, I can't imagine why they wouldn't want to savor their independence.

But even if these elected officials choose not to participate, I think our campaign will be a success if we can show strong support and participation on the part of the American people.

If we can show that local and seasonal foods have moved into the American mainstream, the politicians won't be far behind!

SW: Well, it would certainly be great if local and seasonal foods were once again considered mainstream in the United States. Thanks for helping to make this goal a reality.

Learn more about this topic:

White House Garden Layout
Food Independence Day
Eat The View Campaign
Victory Gardens in U.S. History
Victory Gardens of Tomorrow
Red White and Grew


  1. Wonderful! I love this story. Can't get enough of it! Thanks for shining the light on the much deserving Mr. Doiron.

  2. Thanks much, Pamela. I know you're a big supporter of all these activities, particularly in Texas. Hope you'll stop by again.

  3. Nice background on the White house garden. Hope the govs go along.

  4. Hi Kim and Victoria: Glad you enjoyed the interview. It would be great if the Food Independence Day initiative went well...

    all the best, Teresa