For six months President Obama has been struggling to save the economy, improve international relations and craft a universal health care plan. Last year’s Wall Street meltdown stunned the nation, conjuring up images of a worldwide depression.
Yet, oddly enough, there is a bright spot on the horizon, and, in the President’s case, it’s shining just outside his window. Last March, on the first day of spring, the Obamas planted a relatively small (990 square feet) kitchen garden, at the cost of $200 in seeds. They plan to use the energetic efforts of school children from the neighboring communities for the 8-10 month garden’s life. Research estimates put the average ratio of grocery store cost savings to the equivalent amount of vegetables and herbs produced by a home garden at 1:25. The Obama’s family of five—including Mrs. Obama’s mother—will invest $200 for a savings of $5,000.
Last winter I wrote that I thought the President and First Lady might start gardening in private at Camp David (please see Camp Obama), and then use this experience to help start a personal White House garden. However, I misread their interests in community development. (Although there are still communities around Camp David.) No doubt that I “misunderestimated” their commitment to helping folks—especially the less privileged in DC—battle the recession.
Yet, seriously, there are many other home garden yields as great as money saved, including physical health, a sense of psychological wellbeing, the pure joy of truly fresh flavors, and amusements as colorful as Disney World. Medical research has long established that regular gentle exercise—bending, stretching, pulling—not only prolongs, but also improves the quality of life. In this sense, a garden is a permanent personal trainer-in-residence. As First Lady Michelle Obama demonstrated vividly in her inaugural garden photograph, a determined smile and strong back are worth a thousand words. In addition, the psychic rewards of a life lived intimately with plants has been documented since time began. Gardens have been the birthplace of art, poetry, music, medicine and scientific discovery.
Finally, when compared to store bought produce that has been picked unripe and shipped hundreds of miles over several weeks, a vine-ripened tomato, freshly dug potato, and just picked muskmelon possess flavors that are without comparison. It is primarily for this last reason, which is the “unreason” of pure delight, that gardens have been the image and symbol of Paradise throughout history and in all cultures.
These compelling benefits may explain the surprising statistic that approximately one-third or 40 million out of 120 million American households, engage in some form of vegetable or herb gardening. Nevertheless, industry sales figures suggest that most of these households have gardens smaller than the new one at the White House. Yet, if every one of the 40MM gardeners in America convinces just two friends or neighbors to take up this phenomenally worthwhile hobby, there could be over 100MM household vegetable gardens in 2010.
I mentioned above that the Obama’s garden was modest in comparison to an experienced and enthusiastic home gardener’s production. I have faith that the White House garden will at least double in size by next year, thus reducing the White House grocery bill by $10,000. Imagine the average household creating a 2,000 square foot vegetable garden—about the same “footprint” as a small house or bungalow. Then imagine that smaller and larger families would also join in, either in their yards or local community gardens. Without too much effort, one hundred million households could save an average of $10,000 a year. This would have bailed out the US auto industry several times over. More cogent is the fact that a trillion dollars is the same figure being discussed as the total cost for our nation’s health care reform. Not a coincidence, in my opinion.
My depression-era parents grew up doing chores and walking to school several times a day. Occasionally, in their later years, they would bemoan the sudden appearance of school buses in every neighborhood of my hometown, a small and leafy suburb of Chicago. Even I walked back and forth to school twice a day for a total of four miles for six years. My folks would say, “They could save gas as well as keep the kids from going soft”. I wish they had lived to hear my proposal to the President of the United States for a nationwide movement to create The Trillion Dollar Garden.