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They had another election, and I didn't vote

London Ferrell Community Garden, late 2008We've been encouraging the Obamas to grow a garden in their new side yard - and all the while, something else was cooking. A group called "White House Farmer" recently organized and held an election for, yes, the White House Farmer. Winner Claire Strader, Community Farm Manager at Community Groundworks at Gardens in Madison, Wisconsin, brought in 8,868 votes, or 16 percent of the nearly 56,000 cast. Not a plurality, but the election officials let that slide. I have begun to suspect that my own interest in gardening and eating at the White House may tilt just the least bit toward celebrity fixation of the sort usually slaked by reading all the headlines on all the magazines in the checkout aisles at the supermarket.

My inner school principal has been reminding me, finger waggling, that I cannot control the Obamas' decisions. Instead, I can get to work on something useful that requires making wise choices of my own. I can stop eating metaphorical junk food, in other words, and face up to the Swiss chard.

Actually, spending time reading about the online election of a White House Gardener mimics confused eats, a little bit healthy and a little bit questionable, akin to adding two fingers of Woodford Reserve to that nutritious, anti-oxidant-rich breakfast smoothie.

I'm not advocating. Just musing.

The wonderful, tasty AND nutritious aspect of reading stories about the White House Gardener is learning about ways the nominated gardeners and their colleagues grow sustainable community gardens and orchards, teach self-sufficiency skills to neighbors, and then stretch the local foods season with community canning and preservation projects.

The garden add-ons are exuberant. The winner's garden in Madison includes low-income co-housing, for example.

In 2007 at the runner-up's home base, the Mother Earth Farm in Puyallup, Washington, eight organic acres produced 162,000 pounds of fresh produce, herbs, and honey for the Emergency Food Network -- local food banks and hot meal programs. Giving new meaning to "Yes, We Can," a local faith group managed a communal canning project that produced 40,000 cans of corn, carrots, and applesauce for local food banks. And mixed up in there somewhere there's job training for inmates and developmentally disabled adults. Good for Carrie Ann Little, the nominee who finished second. She is not mentioned on the website, as far as I could tell.

I'll leave you to read for yourself about third place finisher, Margaret Lloyd of Los Altos, California. Completely different scenario, somewhat different language and focus: "biointensive farming," "fundus suburbanus," "home farming."

Or you might be interested in the list of 111 nominees for White House Farmer, including Kentuckians Erik and Gayle Walles, about whom very little information appears. Trusty Local Harvest unlocked the mystery, revealing these gardeners as veritable neighbors here in Fayette County, the owners of Berries on Bryan Station.

In case the reading starts to seem too healthy, another guilty pleasure has appeared: The Obamas, who kept the wonderfully appealing Philippine-born Cristeta Comerford as Executive White House Chef, have brought another chef to town as well. Sam Kass, a Chicagoan who has served as their private chef, sounds like he will make good food from good, local sources. Kass also served as a programmer and part-time executive chef at Jane Addams Hull House Museum, preparing soup there each Tuesday.

I'm predicting we are going to see more stories about Sam Kass, and that's a wonder in itself. So many of us care about food, and about the significance of the Obamas' food choices, that we are going to stoke a celebrity fire around an assistant White House chef. Now that's change, my friends.

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