A Food Revolution in the Making from Victory Gardens to White House Lawn

Last month, First Lady Michelle Obama broke ground for a new
vegetable garden on the South lawn of the White House. It's the first
time food will be grown at the President's residence since Eleanor
Roosevelt planted her Victory Garden during World War II. Back then, as
part of the war effort, the government rationed many foods and the
shortage of labor and transportation fuel made it difficult for farmers
to harvest and deliver fruits and vegetables to market. The First
Lady's Victory Garden set an example for the entire nation: they too
could produce their own fruits and vegetables. Nearly 20 million
Americans answered the call. They planted gardens in backyards, empty
lots, and even on city rooftops. Neighbors pooled their resources,
planted different types of produce, and formed cooperatives--all in the
name of patriotism.

By the time the war ended, home gardeners were producing 40 percent
of the United States' produce. They aided the war effort by creating
local food networks that provided much needed produce in their own
communities, but their effect on the social fabric of the nation was
greater still. Urban and suburban farmers were considered morale
boosters who had found a great sense of empowerment through their own
dedication to a common cause.

Today, home gardening is on the rise, but most Americans still know
very little about where their food comes from, and even less about how
the changes in temperature and precipitation associated with global
warming may alter national food production. If you break down the
fossil fuel consumption of the American economy by sector, agriculture
consumes 19 percent of the total, second only to transportation.
Unfortunately, there hasn't been a concentrated effort to mitigate its
impact on the climate. If we want to make significant progress in
reducing global warming we will need to wean the American food system
off its heavy 20th-century diet of fossil fuel and put it back on a
diet of contemporary solar energy.

Resolarizing the food economy can support diversified farming and
shorten the distance from farm to fork, shrinking the amount of fossil
fuel in the American diet. A decentralized food system offers many
other significant benefits: Food eaten closer to where it is grown is
fresher and requires less processing, making it more nutritious, and
whatever may be lost in efficiency by localizing food production is
gained in resilience; regional food systems can better withstand all
kinds of shocks.

Here are few examples of how we could start:

  • Provide grants to towns and cities to build year-round indoor farmers' markets.
  • Make food-safety regulations sensitive to scale and marketplace, so
    that small producers selling direct off the farm or at a farmers'
    market are not regulated as onerously as a multinational food
  • Urge The U.S.D.A. to establish a Local Meat-Inspectors Corps to serve and support the local food processors that remain.
  • Establish a Strategic Grain Reserve to prevent huge swings in commodity prices.
  • Create incentives for hospitals and universities receiving federal
    funds to buy fresh local produce which would vastly expand regional
    agriculture and improve the diet of the millions of people these
    institutions feed.

This isn't just about government reform. Organizations, businesses,
and even individuals like you can help advance these key initiatives
and support both the revival of food local food economies and the
health of our nation.

Next month the Natural Resources Defense Council will honor
individuals who have demonstrated leadership and innovation in the
field of sustainable food in its first annual Growing Green Awards.
As the Chair of the selection committee, I'm excited to be part of this
initiative and join NRDC in recognizing the extraordinary contributions
this years honorees have made in the areas of ecologically-integrated
farming, climate and water stewardship, farmland preservation, and
social responsibility. The Growing Green Awards
is an opportunity to highlight the contribution individuals can make in
creating a more sustainable future through better food production
practices that improve the health of people and the planet.

Along with my fellow Growing Green Awards panelists, Larry Bain, Fred Kirschenmann and Karen Ross, I'm pleased to announce the nine finalists in three categories: Food Producer, Business Leader, and Thought Leader.

Food Producer

Will Allen, Growing Power, Milwaukee, WI

Judith Redmond, Full Belly Farm, Guinda, CA

Joel Salatin, Polyface Farm, Swoope, VA

Business Leader

Fedele Bauccio, Bon Appetit Management Co., Palo Alto, CA

Michael Rozyne, Red Tomato, Canton, MA

Thaleon Tremain, Pachamama Coffee Coop, Davis, CA

Thought Leader

Ann Cooper, Berkeley Unified School District, Berkeley, CA

James Harvie, Institute for a Sustainable Future, Duluth, MN

Sibella Kraus, Sustainable Agriculture Education (SAGE), Berkeley, CA

The winners will be selected on May 9 at an NRDC benefit at the
California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco, California. I hope you
will consider joining me in celebration of this important event.

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