So far, President Obama hasn't responded to calls from the likes of Eat the View to plant an organic garden on the White House lawn, but Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack took a modest step toward encouraging more home gardening this week.
Commemorating President Lincoln's 200th birthday (Lincoln founded the Department of Agriculture in 1862) Vilsack held a ceremonial shovel above a 1,250-square foot patch of pavement and pledged to rip it up in favor of a garden that would demonstrate how Americans can incorporate beautiful gardens that conserve water, include native plants and feed wildlife and pollinators like bees and butterflies.
In doing so, he called attention to the problems of a paved landscape -- polluted runoff flows quickly off pavement and roofs, eroding streams to the point that they are inhospitable to fish, and leaving the groundwater that feeds residential wells starved for water. The unglamorous terms for this: "impervious surfaces" creating "non-point source pollution" -- that is, the kind of pollution that doesn't spit out of a smokestack or a discharge pipe. This pollution is the most serious, ongoing and difficult-to-manage sources of pollution to the nation's water. In the case of Vilsack's new garden, it will make a humble contribution to water quality in the vast and degraded Chesapeake watershed.
VIlsack also set a goal of creating a community garden at every USDA facility in the U.S.:
"The USDA community garden project will include a wide variety of garden activities including Embassy window boxes, tree planting, and field office plots," according to the USDA press release. "The gardens will be designed to promote 'going green' concepts, including landscaping and building design to retain water and reduce runoff; roof gardens for energy efficiency; utilizing native plantings and using sound conservation practices."
To that end, the American Farmland Trust has nine recommendations for Obama, Vilsack and the USDA. As you can see from its "9 for 09 Farm and Food Policy Recommendations," the American Farmland Trust promotes the kind of farming that Americans across the rural-urban spectrum can relate to: community farms, small family farms and scenic farm landscapes. Its goals include commonsense ideas like preserving good soils from being paved over by suburban sprawl, protecting local farms under conservation easements that retain private ownership but restrict future development, and increasing the availability of locally grown fresh produce in schools and community markets:
Vilsack has one new garden. Now, let's see if he steers the USDA away from promoting industrial corn monocultures and toward a more sustainable community-based farm future envisioned by the likes of Eat the View and the American Farmland Trust.
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