Back in April I blogged about visiting the People’s Garden at the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) headquarters here in Washington, DC with Gene Baur. Essentially a demonstration plot, this garden was the first seed in a bounty of gardens to be established on public land and gave us vegans hope that the colossal agency would be dishing up a more balanced policy diet (a little less heavy on their standard Big Animal Ag fare). When Michelle Obama sang the praises of vegetables and planted an organic garden on the White House lawn, we sang too.
I planted my own Victory Garden in the rather spacious yard of my old Northeast DC rowhouse. Neglected for the decade prior to my moving in last spring, weeds – the kind that wrap around other plants and wrestle the life of out them – flourished in the space where I envisioned bright red tomatoes, shinny yellow peppers and rich purple eggplant. Inspired by the “Yes-I-Can” mindset of President Barack Obama, I fought back enough weeds to make a patch of my own. Five kinds of heirloom tomatoes, a variety of peppers (both sweet and spicy!), zucchini, and eggplant quickly took over my small plot.
I ate the first of my cherry tomatoes as I drove up to Philadelphia for the National Conference of State Legislatures annual summit in mid-July. The following weekend, I nearly slipped on a half-eaten green tomato lying on the path as I rushed past the garden to get to the Taking Action for Animals conference in nearby Arlington. Heavy rains encouraged plant growth while discouraging any gardening on my part. Upon arriving home from Farm Sanctuary’s New York Country Hoe Down, I witnessed the neighborhood squirrels dining on the much easier to carry cherry tomatoes. I’m not sure what happened to my zucchini plants.
Clearly, it is a challenge to grow a vegetable garden with a busy summer conference schedule.
That’s why I say: thank gourd for farmer’s markets!
I’m not the only one, either. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack has declared this National Farmer’s Market Week. "One of the Obama Administration's top priorities is to make sure that all Americans – especially children – have access to fresh, nutritious food, and USDA's ongoing support of farmers markets is important to reaching that goal," Secretary Vilsack said in his press release.
Farmer’s markets are growing like weeds. The USDA counts nearly 4,900 of them across the country – 3,000 more than when the agency first started keeping track in 1994. For many, they are more than just an opportunity to get fresh, local produce directly from the farmer, but a social outing where you are likely to bump into your neighbors, be entertained by musicians or get some new recipes at a cooking demonstration. The USDA maintains a searchable list of farmer’s markets so it is easy to find one close to you.
If you don’t have a farmer’s market in your community, you can encourage the formation of one. At Taking Action for Animals, I spoke on a panel called Lobbying in Your Backyard, about just that. Farm Sanctuary’s Foodprint project encourages communities to support plant-based diets through, among other things, farmer’s markets and community gardens. Your foodprint measures the impact of your diet on the planet. Greenhouse gasses and cruelty give you a bigger foodprint while a vegan diet lightens your load.
You can get involved with our Foodprint project by asking your city council to adopt a Foodprint resolution. We’ve created a step-by-step guide on how to go about it. Not incidentally, this happens to also be a great way to raise awareness about factory farming and introduce people to delicious animal-free meals. With figures such as Michelle Obama and Tom Vilsack leading the gardening bandwagon (or should that be a tractor-pulled hay wagon?) foodprint resolutions are something that can and should be embraced by all.
New York City has an ambitious Foodprint resolution pending and the Green Food Resolution in Chicago has gotten green thumbs up from city councilors thus far. Just like the Peoples’ Garden and the White House garden were inspirations for my backyard garden, these resolutions are inspirations to communities like yours to lessen their foodprint.
I am an idealist, so I have plans for an even bigger vegetable garden next summer. I’ll start earlier in the spring, invite the neighborhood kids over to learn about plants and food, then give them the job of tending to the garden while I am away. It will be a sort of community garden.