I was sitting down to the computer Monday, getting ready to write this article, when some pretty phenomenal news came across my email: Four local gardeners were going to the White House in Washington, D.C.
Now, spring is a great time to get my gardening or farming information out there, be it spring bulbs, or voles and pocket gophers, or aerating the lawn or seeding the cold-season crops like spinach, lettuce and onions. So before this email, I knew that I wasn’t at a loss for material (unlike those December horticulture-related topics that aren’t so easy to come up with).
But the gardeners – five Montezuma School to Farm Project students from Kemper Elementary School in Cortez – were going to our nation’s capital to plant the White House garden with first lady Michelle Obama on Tuesday. The MSTFP, which was started in 2009, is much like The Garden Club of Southwest Colorado in La Plata County, as both focus on providing integrated, hands-on, school garden classes.
Montezuma County has historically been an agricultural hub here in Southwest Colorado, with thousands of acres of hay, wheat, dry beans and pasture for livestock. In the past 10 to 15 years, there has also been a growing community of small-scale vegetable producers scattered throughout the county, from Mancos to Arriola to Pleasant View. So it seemed like a natural fit.
And by the looks of what’s been happening in the Mancos and Cortez schools, it’s growing wonderfully.
Back in 2009, Michelle Obama persuaded the grounds crew to dig up a section of the South Lawn to plant a vegetable garden. The 1,100-square-foot garden of raised beds (way to go, Mrs. Obama – you must have read some of my previous columns) is not the inaugural garden to be planted at the White House, but amazingly enough, it is the first one since Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt had their victory garden in 1943.
President John Adams and his wife, Abigail, planted the first garden at the White House in 1800. Soon after, Thomas Jefferson continued the tradition, although that should come as no surprise to anyone who has visited his Monticello residence where he grew more than 300 vegetable and 170 fruit varieties. Even Woodrow Wilson got into the sustainability movement 100 years ago when he had sheep graze and fertilize the lawn (resources and manpower to have a manicured lawn were to be used in World War II instead).
When you read about the “new” garden at the White House, you also see plenty of vitriol, politicking and general absurdity as to why it was actually planted. The critics say it’s part of the administration’s ploy to have government make our choices for us, including those made in the cafeteria; they said that while there was good intention in having it be organic, they should “consider using crop protection products and to recognize the importance of agriculture to the entire U.S. economy.”
But what I saw Tuesday, when the planting of the garden was streamed live on the Internet, was kids from Washington, D.C., Wisconsin, New Orleans and five from Cortez planting vegetables. At the White House. With the first lady.
To be so lucky.
Darrin Parmenter is the director and horticulture agent of the La Plata County Extension Office. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or 382-6464.