by Jonah Holland, PR & Marketing Coordinator, Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden
What do the Obamas and Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden have in common?
Easy — we are both trying to do the right thing — grow vegetables locally to help our communities lead healthier lives. And if we can get folks excited about gardening themselves and educate them about how to do it in the process then we’ll be even happier.
Here at Lewis Ginter, we’ve just embarked on a wonderful new project to plant the Community Kitchen Garden at Lewis Ginter, to grow local fresh vegetables for the Central Virginia Foodbank. The vegetable garden will cover a fifth of an acre (8,000 SF) with a goal to grow 10,000 lbs of vegetables and fruits for Richmonders who depend on the Foodbank for food. Not only is the Central Virginia Foodbank experiencing an unprecedented demand for food in the past year but people are becoming more aware that eating food that is fresh and grown locally is better for the environment (less oil used to truck veggies across the country) and also better for our bodies. The Community Foundation awarded the Garden a $15,000 grant from the Safety Net Fund to help with the project.
Meanwhile last week, the Obamas broke ground on their own 1,100 SF vegetable garden next to Malia and Sasha’s swing set on the South Lawn. Michele Obama stresses that the primary goal of the garden is educating children about healthful, local fruits and vegetables, during a time when childhood obesity and diabetes are so prevalent. Plus, it sounds like there are other life lessons involved too: mom says regardless, the girls will help with the weeding.
The Obamas are definitely trend-setters for America, and they are doing the right thing leading by example by installing both a swing set (for outdoor play and exercise) and a garden in their first few months in office. This New York Times article really gives a good picture of how the Obamas are using what they’ve learned to teach the rest of the country.
The question had taken on political and environmental symbolism, with the Obamas lobbied for months by advocates who believe that growing more food locally, and organically, can lead to more healthful eating and reduce reliance on huge industrial farms that use more oil for transportation and chemicals for fertilizer.
Then, too, promoting healthful eating has become an important part of Mrs. Obama’s own agenda.
The first lady, who said that she had never had a vegetable garden, recalled that the idea for this one came from her experiences as a working mother trying to feed her daughters, Malia and Sasha, a good diet. Eating out three times a week, ordering a pizza, having a sandwich for dinner all took their toll in added weight on the girls, whose pediatrician told Mrs. Obama that she needed to be thinking about nutrition.
“He raised a flag for us,” she said, and within months the girls had lost weight.
Dan Barber, an owner of Blue Hill at Stone Barns, an organic restaurant in Pocantico Hills, N.Y., that grows many of its own ingredients, said: “The power of Michelle Obama and the garden can create a very powerful message about eating healthy and more delicious food. I don’t think it’s a stretch to say it could translate into real change.”
Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden’s own executive director, puts the Garden’s goals succinctly: “Our mission is to show how plants are essential to human life. This new garden demonstrates those words in action.”
The Garden’s next two 25th anniversary symposia also focus on many of the same issues:
No Child Left Inside, Restoring Nature to Early Childhood (April 28-29) will focus on how children today, more than ever, need unstructured outdoor play time and the lack of outdoor playtime is associated with a rise in obesity and diabetes in our youth. In addition to the full day symposium and a free dinner in the Garden for Teachers, we’ll host a hands on family event called Homespun Family Fun giving parents and children a chance to try out some of our expert’s great suggestions.
Green Tonic: Urban Gardening for Health and Wholeness (August 4-5) will focus on the healing powers of gardens and gardening. Here’s a short description:
Across the country, neighborhoods, civic associations, community activists and organizers are reclaiming vacant or idle land and transforming these parcels into green oases—gardens that often become a hub of community life, as well as productive, sustainable sources of fresh vegetables, flowers, herbs, fruits, and friendships. Studies of cities that have long supported urban greening initiatives—like Philadelphia, Chicago, and Portland—point to lowered crime and vandalism, higher property values, and increased community pride, in addition to the obvious ecological, health, and wellness benefits.This symposium looks at the best urban greening and community gardening models, the infrastructure and public policies that have helped them succeed, and inspiring examples of neighborhoods becoming whole again through the simple act of gardening.
Which brings us back to the New York Times article:
For urban dwellers who have no backyards, the country’s one million community gardens can also play an important role, Mrs. Obama said.
But the first lady emphasized that she did not want people to feel guilty if they did not have the time for a garden: there are still many changes they can make.
“You can begin in your own cupboard,” she said, “by eliminating processed food, trying to cook a meal a little more often, trying to incorporate more fruits and vegetables.”
And, you might even try the local food bank, where for the first time you’ll be able to pick up your fresh locally grown vegetables. The Community Kitchen Garden will grow carrots, broccoli, cauliflower, kale, radishes, spinach, squash, sweet peppers, zucchini, winter squash, eggplant, sweet potatoes and tomatoes.