It has been bought to my attention that, despite what I may believe, I am NOT the most powerful or influential woman in the world. (In all honesty, I may not even the most important woman in the SGA office!) However, there is one woman who may very well be able to stake this claim – the First Lady of the United States of America, Michelle Obama. From what she wears to what she eats, every moment of her life is reported on, scrutinised and, in many cases, emulated. From fashion to fitness (and everything in between), the impact of Michelle Obama’s actions are far reaching and incredibly important!

So, what on earth does this have to do with gardening? Well, as many of you may be aware, Michelle Obama has turned over an area of the South Lawn to develop an organic vegetable garden at the White House. The garden, a 100 square metre raised bed, will be planted out with the Obama’s favourite vegies and herbs, incorporating a berry patch and even some beehives! The first lady will endeavour to tend the garden herself, with the help of her two kids, and some students from one of the local schools.

As Michelle herself has said (and SGA agrees), growing your own food at home encourages both children and adults to eat better, live better and connect with the earth. It also significantly reduces the environmental footprint of our food, by eliminating the packaging, transport and excessive water and chemical use generally associated with produce from large scale farm environments. By encouraging bio-diversity in their White House patch, and using their own White House produced compost in the garden, the Obama’s vegie patch is a serious step in a super sustainable direction.

But aside from being an incredibly high profile organic vegie garden, the White House patch is so much more. It is a serious political and environmental statement, encouraging all of us to get planet-smart, and start growing at least some of our own produce at home. Think this is far fetched? Think again!

During World War II, Eleanor Roosevelt, the first lady at the time, planted a Victory Garden on the White House lawn. This was in direct response to canned food rationing, and was designed to encourage folks on the “home front” to be less reliant on rationed food supplies and to grow their own food to supplement their basic needs. It worked! More than 20 million Americans setup and ran their own Victory Gardens, accounting for almost 40% of all vegies being gobbled up nationally! And not just at home… they grew edible gardens on apartment rooftops, in abandoned lots, and even in public parks and gardens. And across the pond in good ‘ol Blighty, war ravaged Brits were doing the same. One garden in central London was even set up in a bomb crater!!

The impact that this White House garden had through the 1940’s was astonishing! Supported by a poster campaign, books published by the American Agricultural Society and public education on the health benefits of growing fresh produce, the Victory Garden campaign was one of the most successful attempts at urban agriculture ever!

So, what happened? Why isn’t America (and the rest of the world for that matter) heaving under the weight of home-grown produce, instead of under the weight of a chronically obese society? Why is a vegie patch on the Obama’s lawn, and their pledge to eat healthy, organic, home-grown produce such a big deal? Well, the answer it seems is a combination of affluence, convenience and laziness, and it’s certainly not confined to the good old US of A. Australians too have given away the pitchfork in favour of pizza and many of us seem happier to eat a fast food burger than a healthy, home grown salad!

What productive, organic sustainable gardening needs are positive role models. Those individuals who, by making a decision or undertaking a task, can directly influence millions of others to do the same. And this is my hope with Michelle Obama and the White House vegie patch. Perhaps this modern day Victory Garden will help win the war on obesity, unhealthy lifestyles, and the multitude of environmental sins committed through our love of pre-packaged, processed products and fast food.

So, America has its sustainable gardening role models in the Obama’s, but where are Australians to gain their inspiration from? Will we see Kevin Rudd and Therese Rein tending the once productive (but now fallow) vegie and fruit orchards at the Lodge? Will our federal and state environment, climate change and sustainability ministers roll up the sleeves of their suits and get dirty for the good of the environment, and their own families health? As I was always told as a child, actions speak louder than words and I for one would be heartened to see these politicians practice what they preach.

I am calling on politicians and other high profile Australians to make a difference in their own backyards. Give us some sustainable vegie growing advocates from all streams of our society. There are a multitude of positive environmental and health benefits that could be achieved through Australians growing their own food sustainably, including:

  • Waste destined for landfill is reduced, as packaged and processed goods are minimised and kitchen waste is composted at home.
  • Produce gardeners have the opportunity to eat more organically grown fruit and vegetables, even those on restricted budgets.
  • Undertaking gardening activities helps participants to become fitter and healthier, both physically and mentally.
  • The emissions associated with the transportation of food (food miles) are significantly reduced as we grow our own at home.
  • Food is grown and eaten in season, when it is at its optimum, both in flavour and abundance.
  • We can choose to sustainably manage our vegetable patches thus limiting our exposure to the chemicals and pesticides used in large scale, non-organic farm practices.
  • Water is used less intensively and in a more targeted manner in home produce gardens.

And whilst we may not wholly negate the impact of carbon emission disgorged by large scale Australian polluters, we can conceivably head in the right direction through the simple and immensely enjoyable act of growing your own food! And from small things, big things grow so just maybe our pollies can think about converting a bit of the Parliamentary Gardens into an edible patch for the Government Canteen. Get into it… contact your local member, or your environment minister, and ask them what THEY are doing!