I’ve been hearing recently about a proposed plan to plant and maintain a kitchen garden on the White House lawn.  It would be a great way to spread the word about urban and kitchen gardening. Here’s a short article about the project by Roger Doiron, president of Kitchen Gardeners International.

Announce plans for a food garden on the White House lawn, making one of the White House’s eight gardeners responsible for it, with part of produce going to the White House kitchen and the rest to a local food pantry. The White House is “America’s House” and should set an example. The new President would not be breaking with tradition, but returning to it (the White House has had vegetable gardens before) and showing how we can meet global challenges such as climate change and food security.

 

 It certainly would not be the first time there was agriculture at the White House.  John Adams, the first president to occupy the White House, planted a vegetable garden there in 1800 (White House Historical Association).  In 1835 Andew Jackson created the White House Orangery, an early type of greenhouse where tropical fruit trees and flowers can be grown, and added more trees, including the famous Jackson magnolia.  The Orangery was later expanded into a greenhouse, which was torn down in 1857 to make way for the Treasury Department building.

 

Sheep on the White House Lawn, c. 1917. Library of Congress

 

The article below tells a little bit about White House vegetable gardens during the war effort.

Here is a longer article on the subject available at this link.

Message to the Next President: Eat the View

By Barbara Damrosch, published Thursday, February 28, 2007 in The Washington Post

I’ve been following the presidential campaign news, and I can’t believe no one has asked the big question: Which candidate will pledge to be the Gardening President? Who will be the one to take the lead in teaching food self-sufficiency and good nutrition to the American public? What a fine example it would set if the food miles traveled by presidential produce added up to zero.

Chef and food activist Alice Waters made headlines in 2000 by urging President Bill Clinton to plant a vegetable garden at the White House. “Send me the seeds, Alice” was his answer, as quoted in the St. Petersburg Times. But the plan was deemed out of keeping with the grounds’ formal style, and nothing came of it. Perhaps Hillary Clinton, if elected, would be willing to see it through.

The idea certainly has historical precedent. Both George Washington and Thomas Jefferson were dedicated farmers. According to William Seale, author of “The White House Garden,” the first kitchen garden at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue was installed by President John Adams in 1800 — to cut household expenses.

I contacted Rose Hayden-Smith, an expert on the history of wartime gardening and agriculture programs during both world wars, and she highlighted some of the first families’ efforts in the last century. Woodrow Wilson’s second wife, Edith, “raised sheep on the former White House lawn during World War I as part of the White House’s war mobilization effort,” Hayden-Smith noted. “Eleanor Roosevelt was a Victory Gardener, and grew beans and carrots on what had been the White House Lawn. This was going on by 1943. She inspired millions of other home gardeners in their efforts.” Jimmy Carter, another farmer at heart, paid particular attention to the herb garden.

Perhaps the time has come to bring back the Victory Garden in a new guise: as a war on childhood obesity, inactivity, addiction to highly processed food with empty calories, and the use of fossil fuels to grow and ship us our meals.

Roger Doiron, the director of Kitchen Gardeners International ( http://www.kitchengardeners.org), had a great suggestion: “We give tax breaks to people to encourage them to put hybrid cars in their garages and solar panels on their roofs, so why not a tax break to encourage environmentally friendly and healthy food production?” He likened his plan to deducting the square footage of a home office: the bigger your garden, the better the tax break. Those with no yard could deduct the rental fee for a community garden plot.

That would be one small step toward a healthier nation. But it would get my vote.

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For an additional comment from KGI’s Roger Doiron on this topic, please click here.

To cast your vote in favor of a new garden on the White House lawn, please go here and click on “rate this idea”.

Article copyright of Barbara Damrosch. Reprinted with permission.

 

If you are interested in contributing to the campaign you can do that here.

 

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Even the Wall Street Journal is talking about urban agriculture.

Check out this video about Kipp Nash and his yard farms in Boulder, CO (but you gotta be patient and watch an ad first) and the article that goes along with it.  It gives a brief description of start-up costs and profit as well.

 

I’ve only met Ed Bruske a handful of times, but I was impressed by the garden outside of his Columbia Heights home and his dedication to local food and DC Urban Gardeners.  He helped found DC Urban Gardeners last year after finding that there was a lack of outreach for urban gardeners in DC.  His blog, The Slow Cook, is updated constantly with great recipes, informative news, and goings on both around his home and in the DC foody community.  

He recently wrote an excellent article on the global food crisis that I though was very interesting, especially for people who live in DC.  I would check out his article and the links (especially the Washington Post ones).  While you’re there, take a look at his blog- he’s got great links, great recipes, and great advise.  

For anyone living in the DC area, Ed Bruske and the DC Urban Gardeners are a goldmine of information, take advantage of it!  They know pretty much everything growing going on in DC and their website has tons of links to local organizations, stores, and garden info. They’re involved in lots of projects so if you’re looking to volunteer, they’ve got some awesome opportunities. They also have a mailing list and a yahoo group you can get involved with.   They’re super open to talking so just drop them an email

So check out:

The Slow Cook 

DC Urban Gardeners

Fritz Haeg. artist, architect, gardener, superhero.

Today for $29.95 you can can join the 3.5 million families and businesses getting everlasting happiness from their Trugreen lawns. Every month a man will come to your house and spray a delightful mixture of toxins and fertilizers to kill anything that might live in your lawn and green the stuff thats too dumb to die. (Incidently at the bottom of the Trugreen website a little blurb reads, “TruGreen ChemLawn is now TruGreen, because one word is all you need for a great lawn. We have shortened our name to make it easier for you to remember that we are the experts of lawn care. While we are known as “TruGreen”, the name ChemLawn will always be a part of our Company.” trugreen.com)

Sheep on the White House lawn during Woodrow Wilson’s Administration

The American lawn has been an institution in suburbia since suburbia began. Historians believe that this preocupation with low growning, uniform turf grass stems from 17th century Europe, when the ruling royals flaunted their wealth by surrounding themselves with lawns “Lawns did a great job of showing off castles and manor homes. They also let the neighbors know that the lawn owner was so wealthy that he could afford to use the land as a playground, rather than a source of food. Thus, the lawn became a status symbol.” (Donaldson). They are the sign of wealth, materialism, order, and perfection that America thrives on. When the push mower came on the scene in 1870, suddenly almost any property owner who wanted to could have a lawn. So the lawn became a symbol of the American dream, the land of wealth and prosperity, where anyone can have a lawn not used for practical purposes. The USDA and Garden Clubs of America pushed the lawn by holding best-kept lawn contests and writing about the desire to conform and achieve status through a beautiful lawn. The land of wealth and prosperity became the land of excess, wastefulness and materialism. When chemical pesticides and fertilizers came onto the market after World War II, lawns got artificially greener and began to pollute landscapes everywhere. Fertilizer run-off created problems in all waterways and disrupted the balance of ecosystems. For a long time is was thought that agriculture was the main source of pollution to waterways. Only recently did scientists realize the extent to which individually fertilized lawns affected the ecosystem.

Algal bloom caused by fertilizer runoff on the James River in Virginia.

Haeg has been traveling around the country on a crusade against the American lawn in his project, Edible Estates. Instead of these scary unproductive barren patches that we all insist on keeping in front of our homes, Haeg creates beautiful organic edible landscapes that will liven up the whole neighborhood and hopefully make your neighbors jealous. When I think of the words “edible landscape”, an a Charlie and the Chocolate Factory image appears in my head of carefully sculpted unicorn topiaries made out of strawberry plants or at least a giant bush shaped like a yorky terrier similar to the one outside the Guggenheim in Bilbao.

Puppy by Jeff Koons

Puppy By Jeff Koons outside the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain

As far as I know, Haeg has never made an edible landscape of that sort. His are beautiful, productive, well organized, and lasting. Unlike Trulawn, they invite creatures of all sorts into the front yard, don’t dump toxic chemicals into local waterways, and produce lots of good things to eat. “Haeg is taking over one domestic front lawn at a time… in an attempt to completely overthrow the American institution of front lawns by creating a living exhibit that reflects his personal concerns about our environment and the effort that needs to go into protecting it (Thornton).”

Edible Estate #3 in Maplewood, New Jersey (Photo by Fritz Haeg)

“I’m interested in what happens when a garden is placed in a location where it becomes a threat to the industrial/commercial system that we are embedded in.” Said Fritzy in an interview with Creative Time, “For some neighborhoods, it is a very provocative gesture that is upsetting. I think that a society that cannot grow it’s own food or that is threatened by a garden is in deep trouble. Most American homes will hide their kitchen garden in the backyard, if they have one at all. This project gets them out in front, a display created in an attempt to demonstrate the aesthetically pleasing aspects of pratical gardening. And it works. Haeg’s gardens do just what they set out to do, and sometimes I wonder why he doesn’t have a million screaming fans following him everywhere.

Stan and Priti Cox stand in front of their suburban home with Edible Estate #1 in Salina, Kansas.

To represent America as a whole, Haeg decided he wanted to build gardens evenly all over the country. He started in pretty much the geographic center on the country: The first edible estate was built in Salina, Kansas in 2005. Since then five other gardens have been built in Lakewood, California (Southwest); Maplewood, New Jersey (Northeast); London, England; Austin, Texas (South); and Baltimore, Maryland (East) respectively. There is also a demonstration garden in Descanso, California.  Not only does Fritz Haeg build and advertise the edible estates that he designs and creates, but he also encourages others to do the same. His website has an entire section titled “how to make you own” with plans, costs, advise, and references.In a way, the edible estates Fritz has created are advertisements for vegetable gardening in suburbia. “Haeg calls his Estates “franchise projects” because they can be applied anywhere. They’re the product of a sort of global localism that draws its meaning from the indigenous.” (Metropolis)

Haeg’s garden design for Edible Estate #6 commissioned by The Contemporary Museum in Baltimore

Haeg came to Baltimore to plant an edible landscape for The Contemporary Museum’s exhibit Cottage Industry. Many home owners applied for the privilege of having an awesome garden planted in their front yard by a group of eager volunteers from all around the area. To know about the selection process listen to the radio article by Maryland Morning below. So an apparently awesome couple, Clarence and Rudine, were chosen to have Edible Estate #6 planted the front yard of their suburban house and The Contemporary Museum paid for everything. On Thursday, Fritz gave a talk at the museum about the Edible Estates project.

Clarence and Rudine, happy caretakers of Edible Estate #6 in Baltimore

Then on saturday, a whole hoard of volunteers showed up to help and they got the entire garden finished in one day. I found out that the project was happening on saturday afternoon as the last veggies were planted. My bad luck. But I did get a nice email saying I could come check out the garden anytime… Well, at least it saved me the embarrassment of screaming and running around after Fritz Haeg, or fainting on the spot, or being otherwise unable to control myself in his presence…

The happy Baltimore volunteers minus a certain student of urban agriculture who should have been there. (April 11, 2008)

An addition to the wonderfully successful Edible Estates projects, Fritz Haeg has other programs.  In 2001, Haeg created the GardenLab on-campus community garden program at the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena to get art and architecture students and faculty more in touch with their environmental surroundings. “Faculty, students and staff were encouraged to claim one of 30 designated plots within the school’s 175 wooded acres and use it as “a laboratory for messy experimentation and observation of natural cycles.” (Morgan) Haeg’s new Animal Estates project connects city-dwellers with wildlife.  There is currently an Animal Estate exhibit at the Whitney Museum, in New York City. He just published about book about Edible Estates from Metropolis Books. A native Minnesotan, graduated from Carnegie Melon in 1992 with a Bachelors of Arts in Architecture and now lives in Los Angeles.

The man himself: Fritz Haeg ( Photo by Christopher Krieling)

Haeg says, “I like the idea that my projects are better known than I am. More people probably know what the Edible Es-tates project is than who I am, which inverts what’s more common today, where you can know someone really well but have no idea what they’ve ever done.” In an era that loves to make stars, “artists are going to want to circumvent that and posit alternative ways of making art or being creative—for example, does art always have to be solitary?” (Metropolis)

 

Click Here to hear a good article about Fritz Haeg and his Edible Landscapes on Baltimore station WYPR’s Maryland Morning.

Curbed LA: Architect Fritz Haeg Explains His Edible Estates

Here’s more pictures of Edible Estate projects

Planting the Baltimore garden on Saturday.

Edible Estate #4, London, England.

 Commissioned by Tate Modern for the exhibtion “Global Cities” opened June 19th in the Turbine Hall.

 

Edible Estate #2 in Lakewood, California

 

Edible Estates #5 in Austin, Texas

Edible Estates Demonstration Garden: Descanso Gardens, California

 

Obsessed with lawns or Fritz Haeg? check out these sites.

American-lawns.com

Jenkins, Virginia Scott. 1994. The Lawn: A History of an American Obsession. Smithsonian Institution Press: Blue Ridge Summit, PA. 246 pp.

Donaldson, Cameron. History of the American Lawn. Guide for Real Florida Gardeners.

Chemical Contaminants-Bay Pressures-Chesapeake Bay Program.

Urban and Suburban Lands-Bay Pressures-Chesapeake Bay Program.

Thornton, Stephanie.”Edible Estates Coming to Baltimore“. City Paper.

Creative Times Presents: Iterrogating Public Space. An interview with Fritz Haeg, July 2007.

Edible Estates Official Website

Haeg, Fritz. 2008. Edible Estates: Attack on the Front Lawn. Metropolis Books.

Fritz Haeg’s Edible Estates homesteading on the suburban lawn. Culiblog.

Whitney Biennial 2008

Chang, Jade. March 2008. Greening the Edges. Metropolis.

Morgan, Susan. 2008. A Fertile Imagination. The New York Times Magazine.

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