It’s amazing the attention a little website can get, and I’m speaking of course of White House, where people across the country have been voting for their choice for “White House Farmer.”  Over 100 farmers were nominated and 56,000 votes were cast in just 10 days, which I think speaks to the popularity of the very cool idea of food being grown again at the White House.

The top three vote-getters are all women – gardeners at a community farm in Madison, WI, an 8-acre organic farm in Puyallup, WA, and a provider of home farming services in Davis, CA. In fourth place is the top male vote-getter, Will Allen.  Of course I want ALL the nominees to win something – recognition, kudos for their good work, more funding for their projects.  And how about a shout-out to the Brachman family (in S. Illinois, not Iowa as I previously wrote), whose White House Farmer website and make-believe election have brought even more attention to this idea whose time has come – on the heels of campaigning by Alice Waters, Michael Pollan, Roger Doiron and the WHO Farm guys.  The success of all these crusaders in raising awareness, drumming up excitement for the First Family raising food and getting this idea ALL OVER THE MEDIA has been phenomenal.

But as a D.C. local, with almost four decades inside the notorious Beltway, I propose a different contest altogether, and urge a different tactic for growing food at the White House:

  • Instead of a large farm, why not a small kitchen garden, just right for a family of four and their friends. No big deal to install and maintain, no big security hassles, and lots of potential for showing Americans what they, too, can do with very little money or time.  Unlike the 5-acre farm imagined by Pollan and others, it wouldn’t compete with local farmers.  And of course it would be beautiful. 

  • As kitchen gardener, whose services would only be needed a few hours every week, I suggest someone who not only knows how to grow vegetables but who also has experience teaching KIDS to grow them.  I’m not alone in suggesting that someone affiliated with the Youth Garden of the National Arboretum would be great for this part-time job (also not alone in thinking of a particular young woman who’s a total delight and loved by kids.)  Oh, and is it TOO obvious to suggest that someone who knows veg-growing here in the Mid-Atlantic Humidity Belt might be better suited than those fine candidates from other climates?
  • I also propose a White House kitchen garden adviser, and a very particular person to fill that role – Cindy Brown.  She’s been the number one teacher of food-growing in the Washington, D.C. area for years now.  She spoke to the crowd at the Fourth Annual Washington Seed Exchange and floored even the geekiest of plant geeks with her knowledge of how the various vegetable varieties performs right here. That kind of knowledge you can only gain from growing for decades in one spot and trying every single variety there is.  Veg varieties mean absolutely nothing to me, but what bowled ME over was her enthusiasm – nay squealing excitement – for the taste of the vegetables she talked about, cooked a certain way and yum-yum-yum!  See, eating delicious food I GET.  Cindy just may turn me into a farmer after all (along with Ranter Michele).

So for staffers at the White House, if you’re reading this (we WISH), here’s Cindy’s bio:

Cynthia Brown, Assistant Director at Green Springs Garden, started her gardening career in tandem with her passion for cooking.  Her desire to have specialty herbs and vegetables led her to experiment with edibles and test the climatic limits of the mid-Atlantic region. Cindy is a regular contributor to Washington Gardener magazine, appears on local TV and radio shows and speaks frequently at various horticultural venues.  She designs gardens with a mix of ornamentals and edibles for a gourmet garden that appeals to all your senses.

Top photo:  A lovely family-size kitchen garden – Robin Wedewer’s  in Maryland.  Middle: Harvest celebration at the Youth Garden.  Bottom: Cindy Brown.