Pollan’s Advice to Obama: Turn White House Lawn Into an Organic Farm

  • Published on November 26th, 2008

sheep grazing on White House lawn during Wilson administrationThe last time there was an energy crisis in the United States, President Carter installed solar panels to power the White House. Republican president Ronald Reagan promptly removed the panels when taking office.

President-Elect Obama faces not only an energy and economic crisis, but also the potential catastrophe of climate change.  One aspect of the current crises often overlooked by politicians is food policy.

Michael Pollan explained at the Bioneers conference:

Energy. The total economy depends on cheap energy, not to mention peace and no threat from terrorism, in order to move goods from point of cheapest production to point of highest purchase. We will not reduce our dependence on foreign sources of energy or confront the issue of climate change without dealing with the industrial food system, which consumes 17 percent of our fossil fuel.

Obama needs to address the industrial, transcontinental food system, as it is connected to the economic, climate, and energy crises facing the world. What better way for the president to participate in the local food revolution then turning five acres of the White House Lawn into an organic farm?

It’s typical of first ladies to redecorate the White House’s interior.  Instead, I would like to see the first family tackle the White House lawn, as would TheWhoFarm (aka The White House Organic Farm Project) and Eat the View. WhoFarm is asking “our 44th President oversee the planting of an organic farm on the grounds of The White House, our nation’s First Home, at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave, Washington, DC.”

We, the people, respectfully request that an organic farm be planted on the grounds of The White House, at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave, Washington, DC.

The White House Organic Farm (aka TheWhoFarm) will be a model for healthy, economical and sustainable living everywhere. It will serve as an educational tool and economic aid, and as a means to provide food security in the Nation’s Capitol. It will reconnect the Office of the Presidency to the self-sufficient agricultural roots of America’s Founding Fathers.

The White House Organic Farm Recipe

Article I: The Farmers
Public school children and Americans with disabilities will work The White House Organic Farm, to set an example for the world of hands-on learning and will foster an independent, do-it-yourself work ethic.

Article II: The Eaters
The White House Organic Farm’s harvest will provide fresh food for the President, the President’s family, and the President’s distinguished guests.  Just as importantly, it will also supply healthy food to public school lunch programs and food pantries in Washington, DC.

Article III: The Delivery
Food from The White House Organic Farm will be delivered to local public schools and food pantries by volunteers on foot and by bicycle, at a net-zero cost to U.S. taxpayers.

Article IV: The Seeds
The White House organic farmers will plant a diverse mix of heirloom seeds passed down from Thomas Jefferson’s farm at Monticello and seeds donated by American farmers and gardeners, to celebrate both the rich agricultural traditions of the Office of the President and the passions of everyday Americans for working her fertile and bountiful land.

Article V: The Soil
The White House Organic Farm will use healthy topsoil, nourished by compost supplements from yard and food waste from all three branches of the federal government; from The White House, from The United States Capitol, and from The United States Supreme Court.

Michael Pollan has endorsed the project:

Since enhancing the prestige of farming as an occupation is critical to developing the sun-based regional agriculture we need, the White House should appoint, in addition to a White House chef, a White House farmer. This new post would be charged with implementing what could turn out to be your most symbolically resonant step in building a new American food culture. And that is this: tear out five prime south-facing acres of the White House lawn and plant in their place an organic fruit and vegetable garden.

Obama has read Pollan’s piece “Farmer-in-Chief”, to which he responded in Time with no mention of a White House organic farm:

I was just reading an article in the New York Times by Michael Pollen about food and the fact that our entire agricultural system is built on cheap oil. As a consequence, our agriculture sector actually is contributing more greenhouse gases than our transportation sector. And in the mean time, it’s creating monocultures that are vulnerable to national security threats, are now vulnerable to sky-high food prices or crashes in food prices, huge swings in commodity prices, and are partly responsible for the explosion in our healthcare costs because they’re contributing to type 2 diabetes, stroke and heart disease, obesity, all the things that are driving our huge explosion in healthcare costs. That’s just one sector of the economy.

We need a White House organic farm.  Obama should follow the lead of the Royal Highness Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn of Thailand whose Thong Noi palace is a model of organic farming. It really is a small, relatively simple step the new president could take, and there is precedent.  Woodrow Wilson allowed sheep to graze on the South Lawn.

Image:  Eat the View

About the Author

Jennifer lives on 160 acres off-the-grid in a home built with her own two hands (and several more skilled pairs of hands) from forest fire salvaged timber. Her home is powered by a micro-hydro turbine, and she has been a vegetarian for 21 years. Jennifer graduated from Humboldt State University with a degree in art education and has been teaching art to children for over 16 years. She also spent five years teaching in a one-room schoolhouse before becoming the mother of two beautiful children. Jennifer has a Master's Degree in Early Childhood Education and is currently teaching preschool, as well as k-8 art. She enjoys writing, gardening, hiking, practicing yoga, and raising four akitas. Jennifer is the founder and editor of Eco Child's Play (http://ecochildsplay.com) "I’ve always been concerned about the earth and our impact upon it. Now that I have children, I feel compelled to raise them with green values. From organic gardening to alternative energy, my family tries to leave a small carbon footprint." Please visit my other blog: http://reallynatural.com
  • Gekkobear

    When H.R. 875 passes Congress; wouldn't a garden with any surplus be regulated as a "food production facility"?

    Perhaps Michelle can pay the fines of up to $1,000,000 per violation per day for not testing for any possible hazard; but most people aren't going to be able to cover that.

    It would be a really good idea; if someone could just stop the Government from regulating it out of existence. As always.

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  • If the first family did this organic garden, it would send a clear and immediately implementable message to thousands of Americans to do the same. I totally support it. And BTW, there is another precedent besides W. Wilson's sheep. Eleanor Roosevelt had a garden at the White House.

  • Definitely love the idea! What about starting a petition and letting the Obamas know that a lot of people feel this way. It'll really help this bad economy if people grow some of their own food, they'll have more money left over to spend on other stuff! And not to mention, organic gardening uses less energy then flying our food in from around the world.

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  • the yen, I agree! When I was writing this post, I wondered about the amount of pesticide, petro-fertilizers, etc. they use on the White House lawn. I am sure many gardeners/landscapers are already employed. They could be reeducated to grow organically!

  • the yen

    what an example this would be! I read Sara Stein's book "Noah's Garden" several years ago and thought this should be recommended if not mandated for homeowners!! Having an organic farm at the White House would be the ultimate lesson as well as as slap in the face to all the useless lawns (and backyards) across America. I know a farm is a lot of work but at the very least go native.