Alice W, Michelle O, and Wall-E


Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images

The photographs of Michelle Obama and schoolchildren digging up the White House lawn on Friday must be making Alice Waters very happy, I thought as soon as I saw them. After all, Waters wouldn't stop talking about her dream of an organic garden on the White House lawn -- not for fifteen years, and not in the face of a blogosphere backlash that became ever harsher in the face of a bad economy and a general attitude of let's-get-real, who-has-time-or-can-afford-this, oh-please-spare-us-the-airy-fairy-platitudes, etc.

But the garden happened, because Michelle Obama decided to make it a priority, and thus the photo opps with the sustainability-minded chef she brought with her from Chicago, Sam Kass, and the fifth-graders from Bancroft Elementary School.

As I suspected, Waters was ecstatic. I reached her in the middle of an orange grove in Ojai, California, where she was attending a fundraiser for the kitchen at the American Academy, in Rome, a successful example of several sustainable-food projects she has audaciously undertaken in the heart of places that don't think America has a thing to teach them in the way of food (a several-year attempt at an organic restaurant for the Louvre never bore fruit). The trip had been long -- it's a six-hour drive from Berkeley, almost two hours from LAX; I didn't ask how she got there -- and she hadn't thought she would be up to it after "one of the greatest days of my life." But the smell of the "incredibly aromatic" orange blossoms and the sight of fat oranges on the same trees with the flowers revived her.

"I never in my dreams," Waters told me, "imagined the brilliant stroke of bringing in schoolchildren. It feels so authentic, so right -- so home-grown."

Part of the reason she had "spent all day long in this exhilarated place," she told me, was seeing the children in the pictures. The other cause she won't stop talking about, of course, is putting gardens in schools and trying to get children to understand how vegetables can taste, especially if you grow them yourself.

"I never in my dreams," she told me, "imagined the brilliant stroke of bringing in schoolchildren. This is the kind of ownership that makes it feel so authentic, so right. The message is so easily tainted by celebrity, by landscape architects, historic societies, and all the rest. This seems so home-grown. I don't think anyone can reproach them for planting a victory garden -- though they'll try."

I mentioned the article about to appear in the Sunday Times saying that the time for the revolution she has called for for decades might actually be at hand. She didn't know about it, or the fact that it led with a big picture of her. (Of course it was a good picture, and of her at a farmers market. Another picture of a leader of the revolution is of our very own Nutrition columnist, the matchlessly lucid Marion Nestle.


Image From Times Reader

Waters was very pleased to hear it was in the business section, and unsurprisingly agreed with the premise. "I feel we're at the tipping point," she said. "It's happening everywhere. I'm full of hope."

Perhaps it wasn't coincidence that she called as we were in the middle of watching Wall-E, one of the movies everybody else has seen ("It's sweet," she allowed). The end scene (spoiler alert, but we are the last people in the country to see it) shows the free-at-last, shmoo-shaped human beings gazing in wonderment at a seedling as the captain says, "It's called farming! You kids are going to plant vegetables, fruits, and all kinds of things!" The camera shows rows and rows of seedlings as we build to the climax. I imagine Alice was feeling the same sense of liberation and coming into her own season in the sun.