Eat Your Vegetables!

“I sent my grandson out to cut some lettuce,” the woman told me.  “He came back with beet tops. Then I knew the garden really needed to be weeded.”

The family put the beet tops to good use and the beets were no worse for the wear.

As I drive through our Senate District it seems like every one has a garden. The wet weather has made the plants flourish. And even though finishing the hay crop has been a challenge, pulling weeds is a lot easier, if you don’t mind the mud.

Gardening is America’s number one hobby. Estimates are three out of four American households have a garden and those numbers have increased. Last year seed merchants reported increased sales of 20 to 30 percent. This year the National Gardening Association estimates 7 million more families will grow their own vegetables - an increase of almost twenty percent.

People garden for all sorts of reasons. And the National Gardening Association has tracked them all. Better tasting food and saving money on food bills are at the top of the list. Better quality food and knowing the food is safe is close behind.

Even the First Family is getting into the action. Michele Obama started a family garden on the South Lawn of the White House. This is the first “First Garden” since Eleanor Roosevelt started a “Victory Garden” during World War II.

Twenty-three Washington fifth graders joined the First Lady who broke ground last spring. With the help of the White House kitchen staff, the Whitehouse garden has 55 different plant varieties including herbs and berries.

While good food certainly motivates gardeners, Mrs. Obama realized the importance of educating the next generation about healthy eating. She told the New York Times “My hope is that through children, they will begin to educate their families and that will, in turn, begin to educate our communities.”

Bringing good food to children motivated the First Lady to get started gardening. Like many working parents, she saw what a diet of fast food did to her children. Her pediatrician raised a red flag and she got thinking about teaching youngsters about eating right.

The same desire to teach youngsters to eat right motivated families and teachers in Vernon County. They started a “Farm to School” program that I learned about this spring as I chaired a Senate Agriculture and Higher Education committee hearing.

Twenty-six people traveled to the State Capitol to testify in favor of a bill to create a state-wide Farm to School initiative. The bill would help farmers find new markets and give schools access to locally grown fresh fruits and vegetables. Those who testified explained that students ate more vegetables when they understood where the vegetables came from and how they were grown. One lady brought her carrots into a fifth grade class and was amazed to see, when the students learned of the story of the carrots, how much they enjoyed eating them.

Amid the spring flurry of legislative activity, the bill passed with wide bipartisan support and is now law.  While the state’s budget doesn’t have much room for new programs this one became law without spending new money. 

Farmers see how the new markets increased local economic activity.  And schools actually report that students eat more vegetables when kitchen staff can buy locally grown food.

Whether the teaching happens at home, at school or on grandma’s farm, the lessons learned last a lifetime. And maybe the children will enjoy knowing even the President has put in his time weeding the garden.


But don’t worry about our President mistaking the beets for lettuce when the ‘missus’ sends him out to the garden. There will be no beets in the Whitehouse garden. Mr. Obama doesn’t like them!