Trendspotting: Heathful Gardening

Can gardening save the nation?

By Michael Leach

Too busy to eat together as a family? Who isn’t?

President Barack Obama and his family. According to Sam Kass, assistant White House chef, the President eats dinner with his family each evening, unless he’s out of the country. And vegetables and herbs from the White House veggie garden — the first since the 1890s — may be on the menu.

I suppose setting an example, if only to their own children, much less a nation of couch potatoes, is part of First Lady Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move campaign against childhood obesity.

According to the Let’s Move website, one-third of America’s kids are overweight or obese. But it’s almost 40 percent among African-American and Hispanic communities. A third of the children born in 2000 or later will suffer from diabetes. Other health problems stemming from obesity include heart disease, asthma, sleep apnea and social discrimination.

Scary stuff — but gardening can help. (Some of you may be doing your part in community or school gardens or nutrition programs. If so, let us know about it.)

This month, Kass covered some of what is happening at the national level and shared behind the scenes garden stories in a keynote program at OFA, one of the nation’s largest horticulture trade shows. The annual event held in Columbus includes educational courses on topics as diverse as managing a garden center to solving greenhouse bug problems.

Battle lines against obesity are drawn, not at the Pentagon, but in the White House vegetable garden and school ground gardens across the nation.

Kass frequently swaps toque for trowel. He probably worries more about the veggies than a dozen ordinary growers. With 100 members of the press covering each garden-focused event at the White House, who wouldn’t worry if the peas shrivel or a kid spits out that first bite of fresh broccoli?

So far nothing like that has happened but there are mistakes, just like in our gardens. Take the Thomas Jefferson fig.

Despite his coddling, Kass said the fig tree, a type grown by Jefferson at Monticello, sulked during its first year and was only marginally happier in the second.

One morning it was gone.

He found the wilted Thomas Jefferson fig in the compost pile! Apparently a volunteer gardener thought it a weed amongst the mint. Sam replanted and nurtured but it still looked distraught. This year, probably because of the hot summer. it grows lushly and is loaded with fruit. He calls this the “Little Fig that Could.”

Maybe those veggies and the school gardens planted as part of Let’s Move will help defeat fat.

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