Photo by Son of Groucho/Flickr CC
If we create something by believing in it passionately, as a philosopher once said, then reforming the food system might start with changing the options that federal employees have for lunch. How can we expect USDA employees to passionately defend needed changes if their imaginations about food options are stuck in the 1970s?
Washington, D.C. is famous for its contrasts--partisan politics, affluence and poverty--but who knew that food choices were on the same list? Last week, when I visited the White House garden and the USDA cafeteria on the same day, I saw firsthand the present and the potential of our food system, separated by only a few blocks, but virtually by about 40 years.
The Friday farmer's market and the First Lady's well-publicized garden--all 1,100 square feet of it, with a thriving bee house, plants germinated from Thomas Jefferson's Monticello garden, and leadership from Mrs. Obama--represent the potential. According to the First Family's chef, Sam Kass, the White House garden has produced 700 pounds of food in six months and educated thousands of young school children who come to visit and work.
A few blocks away is the people's garden at the USDA headquarters. Agriculture Secretary Vilsack employed a jackhammer and two department landscape architects to replace what had been only cement and grass months ago. They planted produce in raised beds and put in cover crops to enrich the soil in the ground. They erected a bat house to produce guano to fertilize the plantings organically. Free public seminars are offered there on a weekly basis and almost 200 gardens have been developed at USDA offices around the country as a result of this first effort.