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Organic Garden at the White House


zoramargolis
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On last Sunday's 60 Minutes, Alice Waters repeated her sincere wish for a vegetable garden on White House grounds. My thoughts during Leslie Stahl's interview with Waters are similar to those in Chantal Martineau"s Village Voice blog:

In the segment, Waters feeds the cameraman, makes Stahl a wood-fire cooked breakfast and shops for rather expensive grapes at the fruit and vegetable garden in front of San Francisco's City Hall. Waters came up with the idea for the garden and has called for a similar setup at the White House for years.

"How can you not love Alice Waters?" proclaims SF Mayor Gavin Newsom. Stahl tries throughout the segment to get Waters to admit that her way of eating is out of reach for many Americans, but Waters doesn't budge. "Everybody deserves this food. And that's not elitist," she says.

Wow! This isn't going to be a couple of token rows of tomatoes. Map from the NYTimes article Zora linked:

20garden_grph_xbig.jpg

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On last Sunday's 60 Minutes, Alice Waters repeated her sincere wish for a vegetable garden on White House grounds. My thoughts during Leslie Stahl's interview with Waters are similar to those in Chantal Martineau"s Village Voice blog:

I saw that 60 minutes interview and while I certainly agree with some of her views, she came off as pretty out of touch with reality. Life is grand, local food wise, when you live in California.

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At Dumbarton Oaks last night, there was talk of replanting the Victory Garden on the famously landscaped grounds.

I find the trend thrilling, symbolic in some contexts, life-altering and community-building in others. Watching a documentary in which urban farmers planted on abandoned (soil-tested) lots and established markets for neighbors, I couldn't help noticing that big cartons of peaches were going for $2.50 just last year.

Related, fundamental issue: the state of home-cooking.

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Is "healthful" a word? Why not use "healthy?"

Healthy would then refer to the process of eating, as in, "the eating is not ill, it is healthy." Although I suppose the food itself might be enjoying excellent health up until the point it is eaten. Food or eating habits that are healthful will impart good health upon the eater thus rendering the person healthy.

As for Alice Waters, I love her Chez Panisse Pasta and Vegetable books. I'm all for her cause. I am currently nursing aching muscles where I didn't know I had muscles, all from double digging a 4" x 8" lettuce bed Wednesday afternoon. Three or four more to go in a sunnier part of the yard for the plants that want the heat. Home grown food is so satisfying.

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Healthy would then refer to the process of eating, as in, "the eating is not ill, it is healthy." Although I suppose the food itself might be enjoying excellent health up until the point it is eaten. Food or eating habits that are healthful will impart good health upon the eater thus rendering the person healthy.

As for Alice Waters, I love her Chez Panisse Pasta and Vegetable books. I'm all for her cause. I am currently nursing aching muscles where I didn't know I had muscles, all from double digging a 4" x 8" lettuce bed Wednesday afternoon. Three or four more to go in a sunnier part of the yard for the plants that want the heat. Home grown food is so satisfying.

Did you use a teaspoon? :rolleyes:

I need to tend to my beds this weekend.

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Is "healthful" a word? Why not use "healthy?"

"Healthful" is the same as "healthy" only with organics, flowing clothing (preferably hemp), a firm conviction that your dinner is saving the world and -- if found on a food label -- a 40% markup over what a merely "healthy" foodstuff would cost.

See also "sourcing," "foraging," "artisanal."

Love Alice and find the contrast between her debauched early 70s lifestyle "sex and drugs and escarole" an amusing contrast to her Organic Nun image today, but will not applaud the Obama garden until we see the first farm bill he signs.

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Decades ago I was corrected by a Brooklyn-born, inner-city English teacher who considered himself hip--and the source of inspiration for Bart Giamatti's goatee/moustache ensemble--when I used "healthy" instead of "healthful".

Plants rich in nutrients are healthy when they thrive, pest-free, reaching maturity under the beaming sun, thereby becoming healthful food and part of a healthful diet which makes our bodies healthy. (I'm basically agreeing w lperry.)

BTW, if that billowing fabric is Indian cotton, chances are it comes from GMOs sprayed with Roundup, both courtesy of Monsanto.

--Anna Blume, trading in her paisley, mirror-embroidered garb for one of Alice's retro cloches.

* * *

Not sure not reading the whole article is the problem, but, yes, there are more important matters worth addressing.

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Not sure not reading the whole article is the problem, but, yes, there are more important matters worth addressing.

Something that struck me is that people now consider fresh from the farm food to be something that is only available to the rich. My money-poor but fresh food-rich farming ancestors would find this turn interesting, I think. My favorite quote from my late Grandmother was a comment she made to a produce manager who was explaining to her and my mother how fresh the squash in the store were. "I leave the likes of that in the field." This from a woman who raised five children on an income that ranged from miniscule to nonexistent. Elitist? I don't think so. Just the standards of someone who spent her entire life eating straight from the field. I'm proud that she passed those standards on to me, and I plant a garden not because we can't afford to buy food, but because what I grow tastes better than what I can buy. It also connects me to my past, and for about $20 worth of seeds for the year, that's a small price to pay for all I receive in return.

I realize that not everyone has a place to grow food, and the difference is often urban vs. suburban or rural, but as city community gardens sprout up and children are taught in school how to grow plants, things may change. I really hope they do.

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I realize that not everyone has a place to grow food, and the difference is often urban vs. suburban or rural, but as city community gardens sprout up and children are taught in school how to grow plants, things may change. I really hope they do.

It's not just growing the food. If one really intends to eat one's own food in a big way, and one lives the 95% of this country outside of mid and southern California, then one had better plan to spend many many hours of real drudgery processing and preserving that food. Canning is not easy, and freezing isn't a whole lot better, and requires a lot of freezer capacity if one is serious. Remember, our grandmothers did this full time; they didn't have 60 hour a week jobs as media consultants and 10,000 other professions that we have today. It's different now.

I think eating a few things from your own garden is a great idea for a few months of the year, but making a go of it on a large scale is a highly romantic and, frankly, impossible notion for most people. Just MHO.

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^Maybe I worded things poorly. I don't think anyone expects everyone to grow and put up all their food anymore unless that is something they wish to do. One of the benefits of adopting agriculture is that some people in our society get to do things other than produce their food.

However, for the record, some of us actually enjoy the "drudgery" of canning and preserving as my freezer and cupboards will attest. It is not difficult, just time consuming, and we all choose how best to use our spare time. For me, canning brings back memories of staying up late shelling, blanching, and bagging peas and butterbeans, or spending the weekend shucking and scraping corn, or putting up pint after pint of jelly and jam. Each time I take a jar out of the pantry, I see fruit and sugar, but also wonderful times spent with my family. It gives me both comfort and pleasure. On the other hand, there's not enough money in this world to make me want to be a media consultant. I'm happy to allow someone else that particular task.

As to the articles cited above, it seems to me that the point that is trying to be made by both programs are that many people have lost sight of where food comes from and what constitutes healthful food. If you learn that food plants grow better in good soil, maybe you will want to take care of the soil. If you see how much work goes into producing plant foods, maybe you will respect and support the farmer. If you eat a freshly picked vegetable and taste how wonderful it is, maybe you will spend a little more time in the produce section of the grocery store to the betterment of your health. I think these are some of the values, among many others, that a White House garden and Alice Waters' programs help foster. How can that be bad for the country?

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^Maybe I worded things poorly. I don't think anyone expects everyone to grow and put up all their food anymore unless that is something they wish to do. One of the benefits of adopting agriculture is that some people in our society get to do things other than produce their food.

However, for the record, some of us actually enjoy the "drudgery" of canning and preserving as my freezer and cupboards will attest. It is not difficult, just time consuming, and we all choose how best to use our spare time. For me, canning brings back memories of staying up late shelling, blanching, and bagging peas and butterbeans, or spending the weekend shucking and scraping corn, or putting up pint after pint of jelly and jam. Each time I take a jar out of the pantry, I see fruit and sugar, but also wonderful times spent with my family. It gives me both comfort and pleasure. On the other hand, there's not enough money in this world to make me want to be a media consultant. I'm happy to allow someone else that particular task.

As to the articles cited above, it seems to me that the point that is trying to be made by both programs are that many people have lost sight of where food comes from and what constitutes healthful food. If you learn that food plants grow better in good soil, maybe you will want to take care of the soil. If you see how much work goes into producing plant foods, maybe you will respect and support the farmer. If you eat a freshly picked vegetable and taste how wonderful it is, maybe you will spend a little more time in the produce section of the grocery store to the betterment of your health. I think these are some of the values, among many others, that a White House garden and Alice Waters' programs help foster. How can that be bad for the country?

You speak my mind, friend.
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^Maybe I worded things poorly. I don't think anyone expects everyone to grow and put up all their food anymore unless that is something they wish to do. One of the benefits of adopting agriculture is that some people in our society get to do things other than produce their food.

However, for the record, some of us actually enjoy the "drudgery" of canning and preserving as my freezer and cupboards will attest. It is not difficult, just time consuming, and we all choose how best to use our spare time. For me, canning brings back memories of staying up late shelling, blanching, and bagging peas and butterbeans, or spending the weekend shucking and scraping corn, or putting up pint after pint of jelly and jam. Each time I take a jar out of the pantry, I see fruit and sugar, but also wonderful times spent with my family. It gives me both comfort and pleasure. On the other hand, there's not enough money in this world to make me want to be a media consultant. I'm happy to allow someone else that particular task.

As to the articles cited above, it seems to me that the point that is trying to be made by both programs are that many people have lost sight of where food comes from and what constitutes healthful food. If you learn that food plants grow better in good soil, maybe you will want to take care of the soil. If you see how much work goes into producing plant foods, maybe you will respect and support the farmer. If you eat a freshly picked vegetable and taste how wonderful it is, maybe you will spend a little more time in the produce section of the grocery store to the betterment of your health. I think these are some of the values, among many others, that a White House garden and Alice Waters' programs help foster. How can that be bad for the country?

I agree with just about everything you say, and have nothing but the highest praise for folks like you and Zora (who is a friend and who I consider a true exemplar of the best there is in food and eating). I pack and freeze produce myself every fall (luckily where I live in Southern Appalachia you can buy it by the ton at numerous roadside stands--no need to work the soil yourself!). My point is a bit different. When I read exchanges like the one above, and they are everywhere these days, I often see an underlying prescriptive tone of "everybody ought to do it this way and we'd all be healthy and the world would be a better place." Aside from how true that really may or may not be, I just see a big dose of unrealism about what is actually relevant for 97% of the population. It simply isn't possible to eat fresh locally-grown foods most of the year, and for most people in the modern world it isn't possible to engage in gathering, let alone preserving, such foodstuffs. Even if it were, there is no way that large concentrations of people such as in eastern metro areas could ever be supplied with a material portion of their food requirements from local, let alone fresh local, sources. The potential capacity simply is not there, not to mention the climate. To me, the idea of eating principally from fresh local sources is at best a niche idea, available to at most very small group of dedicated persons, but not applicable to satisfying the needs of the larger range of the population. In that sense it is and will always be "elite," irrespective of how Alice Waters (a great lady) would like it to be.

And, as an aside, there is a good bit of superficial reasoning that goes into the arguments that arise. One is energy, i.e. it's typically said that it's better to eat locally produced food because it requires less energy to transport it to you. Sorry, but due to the differing transport technologies used, that is often, even typically, not the case. The energy needed to bring an apple to your table from an orchard in Chile is little more, and often less, than that used by a local guy selling his own stuff at a farmer's market, simply because of the energy efficiency of the vastly different transport and storage technologies available to the two. The degree of freshness at market of produce from, say, California is also frequently equal to or better than the local guy. I'm not saying that local fresh isn't often superior, but the margin is not what is often perceived/suggested, nor is it necessarily due to the "localness" of the food.

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^Maybe the movements have a PR problem if their goals are being interpreted as an all-or-nothing lifestyle. I think they are more interested in sparking debate and encouraging people to think about their food. For a myriad of reasons, food habits are very difficult to change, and I think it's wonderful that someone is out there lighting a candle instead of simply cursing the darkness.

There is a nice editorial in the Times this morning that is relevant to this discussion, I think. The writer is concerned about access to fresh produce in poor, urban areas.

Link here.

I find the trend very positive. Would this issue have appeared in the paper if there was not a White House garden planned? Probably not. This is progress. Baby steps, yes, but progress toward the eventual goal of everyone having access to fresh food.

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^Maybe the movements have a PR problem if their goals are being interpreted as an all-or-nothing lifestyle. I think they are more interested in sparking debate and encouraging people to think about their food. For a myriad of reasons, food habits are very difficult to change, and I think it's wonderful that someone is out there lighting a candle instead of simply cursing the darkness.

There is a nice editorial in the Times this morning that is relevant to this discussion, I think. The writer is concerned about access to fresh produce in poor, urban areas.

Link here.

I find the trend very positive. Would this issue have appeared in the paper if there was not a White House garden planned? Probably not. This is progress. Baby steps, yes, but progress toward the eventual goal of everyone having access to fresh food.

I agree that even extreme proponents often have a positive impact, even if their particulars goals are beyond what most people would call reasonable. PETA's effect on animal rights would be another example.

I don't think, however, that Michelle Obama's garden can be credited as a trigger for press about the problem of fresh food in poor areas. This is well-tread ground. I can recall many articles about this problem in such as the NYT and the Post over the years, and BTW the "fresh" that today's piece and its predecessors are talking about not arugula in farmers' markets, just things like having availability of plastic bags of iceberg and fresh meat. There are even two, (count 'em, two) entries in Wikipedia directly related to this issue, with ample footnotes.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Supermarket_shortage

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Food_desert

BTW, why do we insist on calling it "arugula?" Wouldn't the plain old English "rocket" do just as well for us plain folks? ( I love to eat rocket with my calamari <_< , and anyway we need to be in the vanguard :rolleyes: on these issues)!

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I don't think, however, that Michelle Obama's garden can be credited as a trigger for press about the problem of fresh food in poor areas. This is well-tread ground. I can recall many articles about this problem in such as the NYT and the Post over the years, and BTW the "fresh" that today's piece and its predecessors are talking about not arugula in farmers' markets, just things like having availability of plastic bags of iceberg and fresh meat. There are even two, (count 'em, two) entries in Wikipedia directly related to this issue, with ample footnotes.

If bags of iceberg and fresh meat are progress, why is this bad? Every journey begins with a single step. If Michelle Obama is bringing more attention to the issues, more power to her.

BTW, why do we insist on calling it "arugula?" Wouldn't the plain old English "rocket" do just as well for us plain folks? ( I love to eat rocket with my calamari :lol: , and anyway we need to be in the vanguard :rolleyes: on these issues)!

Why call it "calamari?" What's wrong with "squid?" <_< Happy eating!

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How wrong and unsanitary was it to see the picture of the folks in chef's whites digging in a garden? I guess everything is about photo op.
It was all about the photo op. How else to depict a chef (or those not known on sight) without the symbolism? Seems like a waste of laundry to me. The chef's toque looked especially bizarre.
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It was all about the photo op. How else to depict a chef (or those not known on sight) without the symbolism? Seems like a waste of laundry to me. The chef's toque looked especially bizarre.

Perhaps for some people in the USA a person dressed in all white might be a doctor. The toque is the iconic symbol of a chef in our culture. The pictures from the photo op aren't just being seen in the NY Times.

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If bags of iceberg and fresh meat are progress, why is this bad? Every journey begins with a single step. If Michelle Obama is bringing more attention to the issues, more power to her.

It's not bad. The point was that articles about bringing supermarkets to poor areas have nothing to do with "fresh locally grown food" and everything to do with bringing regular old supermarkets to poor areas.

Why call it "calamari?" What's wrong with "squid?" :rolleyes: Happy eating!

That was exactly my point, but apparently, even tho I added smiley faces, my sardonic approach wasn't picked up on. Also, I brought in vanguard because it is an interesting word which has been borrowed from elsewhere (the French avant garde) twice; it first came in to English around 1200 ?? and was anglicised to vanguard. Later, when that no longer sounded sophisticated enough, it was brought back in again and kept in in its French form. Arugula and calamari are like that--use of furrin words to sound sophisticated.

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Perhaps for some people in the USA a person dressed in all white might be a doctor. The toque is the iconic symbol of a chef in our culture. The pictures from the photo op aren't just being seen in the NY Times.
Yep, I saw it in the Washington Post :rolleyes:. I was reacting to the idea that it seems odd to go out to dig a garden in chef's whites. They weren't going to go back into the kitchen and prepare food in clothes dirty from the garden, were they? (Perhaps they were.)
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Yep. Because if there ain't no picture, it never happened.

Someone in the White House understands the importance of symbolism. Either that or the next cause is environmentally safe oxygen bleach...

This morning in the Times: A nice piece that discusses big policy issues (child health, global warming etc.) linked to food production. I think they did a good job of covering both proponents and opponents. I, for one, am cheering for the underdogs. :rolleyes:

Link

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Someone in the White House understands the importance of symbolism. Either that or the next cause is environmentally safe oxygen bleach...

This morning in the Times: A nice piece that discusses big policy issues (child health, global warming etc.) linked to food production. I think they did a good job of covering both proponents and opponents. I, for one, am cheering for the underdogs. :rolleyes:

Link

FTR, that is FRESHFARM Market at Dupont Circle (no mention in caption or article). Heinz Thomet's Next-Step Produce is featured, though he's off-camera as is are oh, never mind.
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In relation to this, I was listening to WTOP tonight and they mentioned something about having fresh honey on hand with a local beekeeper. Although being stung and getting allergic reactions as a result is a legitimate concern, I found it amusing that of all the people troubled by bees buzzing around, the Secret Service were the most worried about this factor.

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In relation to this, I was listening to WTOP tonight and they mentioned something about having fresh honey on hand with a local beekeeper. Although being stung and getting allergic reactions as a result is a legitimate concern, I found it amusing that of all the people troubled by bees buzzing around, the Secret Service were the most worried about this factor.

I guess that makes sense. It might be difficult to concentrate on your job of protecting someone if you are being chased by a cloud of bees. Although my Grandfather kept bees, and I never got stung. He always used one of those smoke-bellows contraptions, and they seemed to be rendered pretty docile.

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I guess that makes sense. It might be difficult to concentrate on your job of protecting someone if you are being chased by a cloud of bees. Although my Grandfather kept bees, and I never got stung. He always used one of those smoke-bellows contraptions, and they seemed to be rendered pretty docile.

I'm not clear why anyone should worry about being chased around by a cloud of bees. Honeybees (at least the varieties of yore, not these Africanized ones that are sometimes around these days) will only sting if they feel they, or more importantly their hive, is under attack. Unlike some other hymenoptera, their stinger is barbed so if they use it they die, making them very reticent to use it. Generally if you leave them alone, or just watch them going about their work, you have nothing to fear.

AFAIK the only time bees are found in a "cloud" is when they are swarming, i.e. part of a hive has broken off and is out looking for a new spot to set up housekeeping. Under those circumstances, honeybees are famously docile and basically don't sting, since there's no hive to protect.

I kept bees as a kid, though not very successfully I must admit.

Many years ago, when my daughter was a toddler, some hornets set up on the side of the house where we lived, down low. By the time we noticed them it would have been questionable to try to do anything about it, so we just lived with them for the summer. Their flight path directly intersected our main entry route to the house, so we even had occasional collisions, including my toddler. But nobody ever got stung, and finally winter came and the "problem" went away all by itself.

To patiently observe nature is a true delight. Here in North Carolina on our mountain we have oodles of spiders, an endless source of fascination for me. Today was one of the first warm days, and I watched four or five buzzards all at the same time soaring on the updrafts coming off our ridge. A wonderful sight. Retirement has its upside.

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Sad to hear that Alice Waters won't get her wish really. According to WTOP, the garden can't be organic certified because the Clinton Administration used sewer sludge as fertilizer. Is using sludge as fertilizer common?

The original organic standards actually allowed sewer sludge as an ingredient. Whole Foods actually did the right thing and organized a phone/email/write in campaign and got this ingredient banned. But do remember, your organic beef can be fed non organic grains of the price of organic over the price of convention feed exceeds a certain percentage, there are no standards in organics for industrial land management techniques (ie Cal Organics has/had? veggie farms in the Arizona dessert that were so over irrigated that they were causing salinity isses for down stream Indian reservations), organic milk can be made using factory farming techniques etc. Ain't agribusiness wonderful even if the running dog capitalists are ex hippies?
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And every once in a while the poor have better access to fresh produce and goods than we know, depending on where they live of course. I grew up in rural Western Maryland with a lot of family from West Virginia. I grew up with an Amish nanny and interacted with the Amish community frequently. For them they could not afford to buy all of what they make. Whole families would come together to harvest and preserve.

My family in West Virginia pride themselves on the gardens they raise. My grandfather was one of 19 (from two Mothers, one who passed away earlier in life) growing up in the depression in rural West Virginia. If you didn't grow it and make it you didn't have it. To this day my family all garden some with huge gardens and they pride themselves on preserving, some like my brother who does urban gardening in Dupont (although people keep stealing all his tomatoes, not so much the other produce, but tomatoes), some like my uncle when laid off from his job planted a huge garden this summer and has been doing so well he has been taking it to the local farmers market to make some money. My Grandfather at 92 had his first year where he did not put out a large garden.

So I think access is an issue for some, but I think in this economy many people are going back to their routes and growing gardens. This year the number of people buying seeds and plants skyrocketed, so while yes buying fresh can be expensive and may be limited in other instances it really is not as much about money as access and knowledge. I think it is all about raising the awareness that it is possible to have an urban garden, it is possible to grow and preserve a lot of your food will help people realize that they can do it. But I think really it was about convenience and now that times are tough and more people are jobless it has changed that. I think the biggest problem is that people don't know where the food comes from and how to grow it, and I think awareness on those issues will help. So while it all may be a little silly in the papers, if it helps people realize how to be self-sufficient, if people realize that they can use this to help them through a rough period of their life then all the better, I will accept a garden, city bees, people gardening in chef's clothes, whatever.

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Sad to hear that Alice Waters won't get her wish really. According to WTOP, the garden can't be organic certified because the Clinton Administration used sewer sludge as fertilizer. Is using sludge as fertilizer common?

WTOP is referring to methods used by grounds-keepers (hired by someone other than the Clintons) more than eight years ago? In this particular spot? This particular soil? In urban settings, I believe soil has to be tested before planting a new culinary garden. I wonder whether the people involved in planning and creating the current garden would have set themselves up for this kind of Foxist scrutiny. The transition to a certifiably organic farm takes about five years. Let's hope there's time and opportunity to get there.
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