Listen to Roger the Gardener: Make the White House a Model of Sustanability

Election '08

Senators McCain and Obama, you've spent much of the past two weeks trying to win Joe the Plumber's support when you could have won many more votes by addressing me: Roger the Gardener. There are 90 million U.S. households that have a yard and garden and over 25 million households that grow some of their own food. As a representative member of this large demographic, I'd like to offer you some advice on how you can harvest our support by the bushel.

Start by announcing that, if elected, you will make the White House a model of sustainability. Nine out of ten households believe that it is important to maintain their yards in a way that benefits the environment, according to a recent survey by the National Gardening Association. If we, the people, believe that this is right for our houses, shouldn't it be the standard set for "America's House?"

You need to know that we gardeners are tangible types and are not won over with vague promises. When you're making your closing arguments this week and talking about the importance of weaning the US from foreign oil, give us specific examples of what you'll do differently as "Landscaper-in-Chief." You could start very close to home by promising to break America's addiction to fossil fuel derived fertilizers and pesticides such as the ones being used on the White House lawn.

Once the White House lawn is free of petrochemicals, it will be clean and healthy enough to eat from. You can then announce, with great media flair, that this is exactly what you intend to do. No, I'm not talking about planning the "First Picnic," but the "First Garden." The White House grounds span roughly 18 acres and include everything from a jogging track, swimming pool and tennis court to a putting green. A staff of 13 groundskeepers and gardeners keep them looking prim and presidential. Surely, we have the space, labor, and know-how for meeting some of the White House's seasonal produce needs onsite. And since food and agriculture are responsible for one third of the greenhouse gas emissions we create, announcing this initiative to reduce the First Family's "food miles" to "food feet" will also help you win over other green voters.

I've seen the polling data on this point and know it's a political winner. Thousands of Americans have already voted in support of the First Garden on the popular website where ordinary citizens can make proposals for what you should do upon taking office in January 2009. Of the thousands of ideas that have been submitted so far, the proposal to the next president to "eat the view" by planting a food garden on the White House lawn is currently winning in a landslide with twice as many votes as the second place entry.

I know this because I am the ordinary citizen who proposed it back in February.

If this idea has proved popular and has since been echoed by sustainable agriculture luminaries like Michael Pollan, it's because it's not just about creating a garden for the president, but a garden for the people with fresh fruits and vegetables going to supply local food pantries in the DC area. You can use this part of the proposal to counter your opponent's charges of edible elitism. How can you be considered elitist when you have a juicy home-grown tomato dripping down your chin?

Some naysayers and perhaps even some of your own advisers will respond that it would be inappropriate to alter a historic landscape in this way, but you will have public opinion on your side, not to mention history. The White House lawn has been a sustainable and edible landscape in the past, notably at times of national emergency. In 1918, for example, Woodrow and Edith Wilson did away with gas-powered mowers, replacing them with a hungry herd of sheep. Later, in 1943, First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt planted a Victory Garden on the White House lawn inspiring millions of citizens to follow suit. For the really obstinate opponents who say "that was then, this is now," you can point them to the governors of Maine, New York, and North Carolina who are already happily eating their view and saving tax-payers money along the way.

At this moment of intersecting financial, fuel, and environmental crises, we the gardeners of the nation are calling on you not only to do the right thing, but to chew it too. I know that one garden can't save the economy, feed the world, or tackle global warming, but this new garden, the First Garden, seems like a logical place to start.

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