Thursday, October 15, 2009

Blog Action Day: Garden for the Globe

It's Blog Action Day 2009, and this year the theme is global climate change.

A garden blog seems like the perfect venue to talk about going "green" to address global climate change and reducing one's carbon footprint. After all, one can plant a tree to absorb carbon dioxide and photosynthetically transform it into wood and other plant tissue. Problem solved. Right?'s a start.

Think about where to locate that tree. On the south side of a house, a deciduous tree can shade the house in the summer, reducing the costs of keeping the house cool. On the north side, an evergreen can block chilly winter winds, reducing winter heating costs, while a foundation planting of woody shrubs can protect the house as well. Stick with small trees that top out at 20 feet or so, and you might have your trees and solar panels, too. Choose shrubs appropriate for the climate, and you reduce water usage as well. Now we're cooking with gas... er, solar.

Using trees to take up carbon dioxide and cutting heating/cooling costs to reduce carbon output is all good, sure. But solving the global climate change puzzle is going to take a lot more than planting a tree and turning down the thermostat. It's even going to take more that putting up a solar panel and thumbing your nose at the electric company trucks.

What got us into this mess in the first place was the use of fossil fuels to energize an industrial revolution which led to an out-of-control consumption-based economy. Mother Nature took hundreds of thousands of years to put all that petroleum and coal into the ground. Humans have burned up perhaps just shy of half of it in less than 200 years. That's a lot of carbon, all at once. Of course it's going to have an impact.

What have we gotten in return? We have fast transportation, machine-produced goods, labor-saving appliances, hot-and-cold running water, central heating, fresh produce year-around, and all the other former luxuries that we now consider daily necessities and would be loath to give up.

We live in a society grounded in consumption. We haven't always been this way. In the past, people of the US took pride in their productivity. Most people lived on small farms. People cooked, sewed, spun, and knitted. They worked wood, braided rugs, made milk into butter and cheese and apples into pies and cider. In the country, people grew most of the food that they ate. Even in the suburbs, while houses might have a lawn and flower beds in the front, they more often than not had a kitchen garden in the back.

In the mid-20th century, particularly after WWII, American society had a turn-around. After scrimping and saving for two World Wars, after giving up butter and meat, after endless scrap drives, after knitting for the soldiers, people were tired of economizing and were pleased with the message from Madison Avenue: luxury goods! Modern living! Why cook from scratch when you could buy ready-cooked in a can, all the work done for you in (what was presented as) a clean, hygienic factory kitchen? Why be so old-fashioned as to knit or sew when you could buy ready-made?

And so we became consumers instead of producers, happily contributing to an economy that was based on more and more people buying more and more stuff per capita every year. The price for the luxury of buying everything ready-made and on-demand was increased pollution, increased carbon emissions, and depletion of natural resources. Global climate change was the inevitable result, and it's not thousands of years in the future. It's right now.

Our consumer-based economy is neither economically nor ecologically sustainable. We can't keep it up. We must change, and do so before the economy and the ecology collapse irrevocably. We must do so intelligently, thoughtfully, and with care in choosing what kind of economy we can sustain.

And what does this have to do with gardening? Take a peek back at those farms and homes I talked about earlier. What was in the back yard? Yep, the humble kitchen garden. Where were most people living? You got it -- on local farms, supplying people in the area with fresh produce, meat, and eggs.

If global climate change is the demon child of the industrial revolution and the transformation of producers into mass consumers, the way out again is to become producers once again and become more thoughtful consumers. Eating locally is one avenue. Eating locally reduces our reliance on produce shipped from faraway countries, and you can't get much more local than your own back yard. There's also nearby farms and farmer's markets. Buying local not only reduces one's carbon footprint, it also keeps money in your local economy, which keeps local businesses and farms alive and preserves meaningful employment in your area.

Natural landscaping is another avenue. Outside of the kitchen garden, thoughtful choices among native and near-native plants can reduce water consumption, contribute to carbon-sequestering, and support local wildlife. Organic gardening methods put carbon-rich humus in the soil, which increases carbon-sequestering.

Then there is the more cerebral part of organic gardening. As the gardener goes through the seasons, learning from books and by (sometimes hard) experience about which plants to choose, how to care for them, and which pests to watch out for, the gardener connects to the natural world and the rhythms of the seasons. Thoughtful choices in the garden, from which pest control methods to use to which plants to choose, can lead to thoughtful choices outside of the garden. If I don't want to put poisons on my plants, do I want poisons in the household cleaners I use? If I'm concerned about the health of my soil, what about the soil of our nation's farms? What do I care about the latest fashions or must-buy products when I have a harvest of tomatoes and corn to take pride in?

By some religious traditions, humans began life in a garden. With a little effort, maybe it will be gardens that keep us alive as well.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

I eat local because I can...

A long, busy summer has gone by since I last took the time to sit down and garden blog. There's something about the late summer, with the heat and the whole yard drying to a crisp and even the weeds punking out that kind of diminishes garden fever, until the spring catalogs arrive.

This summer I've had lots of landscaping projects in mind, but knowing that we were about to have the roof torn off of our house and reconstructed gave me pause: "Hmm, those guys are paid to demolish and build, they're not paid to tiptoe gently around the tulips." Nope, not at all. And I'm glad, now that construction is underway (pictures to come -- the transformation on our house is astonishing) that I did put off my summer projects. It looks like a mini-tornado has been through. Fortunately the shrubs next to the house are practically indestructible.

Eating local, whether out of the garden, the farmer's market, or nearby farms, has been a common theme this summer, and will continue all winter. I've dried several pints of sun-dried tomatoes, canned whole bushel (42 pints) of peaches from a local farm and 40 pints of pears from a friend's pear tree, and froze 60 pounds of blueberries from a blueberry farm. Oh, lordy, the flavor of home-canned peaches is incomparable. Nectar. Ambrosia. Food of the gods. I'm glad I put up double of what I usually put up, so I don't have to try to make them stretch and can have home-canned fruit salad when I want. Alas, I missed the cherry harvest and didn't get cherries put up. Try again next year.

All those shiny, colorful jars of produce look so nice on the pantry shelf, and give me a smug, self-sufficient feeling. If we're snowed in this winter, we'll certainly have enough fruit to eat. Maybe not a whole lot else, but fruit, yeah, we have it!

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Friday Finds

It's been a busy week, so not much gleaned. There IS a lot going on in the garden now that the tomatoes are leaping out of the ground, the strawberries are producing, and I see today that the pie cherries are turning. Pictures to come!

A few things I've stumbled across:
  • Have an iPod Touch or an iPhone? Here are 10 garden apps for you to play with, from plant encyclopedias to local eating databases.
  • What do you do when your city is losing population and neighborhoods are turning into ghost towns? Does it make green sense to bulldoze vacant houses, after removing any thing recyclable, and return the land to nature? There are both pros and cons to the plan, of course, but it's interesting to see that "negative growth" doesn't have to be a dirty phrase.
  • Bloggers have an ethical code? Apparently so, according to this study!

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Friday Finds (a day late -- so sue me)

It's been a draining weekend so far. A funeral double-header. Seriously. Two funerals in one weekend. I'm doing a good deal of quiet knitting and flower-planting this weekend.

A few interesting finds from the last week or so:

  • Goats instead of lawn mowers? More and more communities are seeing this as a good idea. And corporations, too -- check out the Google Goats.
  • USA Today finally caught on to the concept of Urban Farming.
  • Want to keep locally-owned businesses in business? Join the 3-50 movement. Choose three locally-owned businesses -- actual storefronts that are not franchises -- and spend $50 each month at each of them. The effects can be enormous. Hmm... I think between the garden center, the local pet supply shop, and the new crepe and gelato restaurant, I spent my 3-50 cash for the month and then some.

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

The Oregon Garden in Spring

On a sunny weekend not long ago -- Memorial Day to be precise -- we decided to get out of the house and do something. The summer-like air called us outdoors and off we skipped to The Oregon Garden in Silverton (which I think was a much better plan than going to a movie, which was the first thought).

The garden owns over 200 acres of land, once a horse ranch, and about 18 acres have been developed. Moonstone Hotels owns a luxurious lodge with conference facilities in the grounds and took over the garden finances not long ago when the garden was having serious financial problems. With their sponsorship and the presence of the hotel, the garden is on track to success once again.

From the highest point on the slope, one can look down at the garden, wild bits and landscaped bits alike, and off across the Willamette Valley to the Coast Range in the distance:

The series of ponds that connect to one another down the hillside are more than just pretty. They also provide wetland habitat, and, believe it or not, filter treated municipal water, which irrigates and provides nutrients for the garden.

We caught the electric tram for a quick tour around the garden to spot things we wanted to see on foot later. For a public garden of its size, it has a lot of variation, innovation, and charming little bits like this green roof on the pumphouse for the water garden:

The children's garden was one of my favorite spots, for all the imaginative features packed into one spot. The garden sports a dragon windvane:

As well as a couple of pot people:

And a Hobbit house for the kids to play in, running through the tunnel or rolling down its slopes:

And even a huge sandbox complete with dinosaur bones to unearth:

Kids can wonder at the vertical garden and peer at all the little succulents growing on its face:

For the smallest visitors, a miniature garden features tiny houses and riddles painted on rocks:

Beyond the edges of the developed gardens is a stretch of native prairie that is slowly being restored. In the midst stands the Heritage Oak, an Oregon White Oak over 400 years old:

Who says public gardens have to be only ornamental? Here the vegetable gardens demonstrate square foot gardening:

I plan to install an espaliered apple fence like this in my own garden:

And of course there were formal gardens, with some pretty amazing fountains and sculptures:

That's only a sampling. You'll have to visit the gardens yourself to see the rest!

Friday, June 05, 2009


We just learned that the mother of a family we know in the neighborhood, whose son is one of my son's buddies, passed away quite suddenly and unexpectedly. She leaves behind a husband, grown son, and two school-age daughters. Must see what we can do for them.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Friday Finds

A round-up of interesting, more-or-less garden and ecology related stuff I've run across this week:

  • Deputy Dog blog shows that without a doubt solid waste pollution is a problem. Holy Shamoley, is it a problem!
  • Frances Moore LappĂ©, whose career as an environmental activist started with the classic cookbook, Diet for a Small Planet, says that we're going to have to make a few simple but fundamental changes in our thinking if we're going to even have a planet to hand on to future generations.
  • Susan Harris at Garden Rant shows a terrific Stickwork Summer Palace built entirely of natural materials. Looks like a soft-serve ice cream made of sticks and straw. I want one!
  • Every now and then the New York Times gets it right with a gardening article. This time it's one on making a salsa garden. (Yes, that's me, the country kid, snarking at them city slickers.)
  • Needled, a needlework blog, shows beautiful photos of the gardens at Arfin, in Scotland. Drool. Now where am I going to get the money to go to Scotland, because now I must go!
  • Another excuse to go to your locally-owned garden center or nursery: The 3-50 Project to stimulate your local economy.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Memorial Day 2009

To Dad (Air Force, Korean War), Grandpa (Army, WWI), and great-great-Grandpa (Union Army, American Civil War) who served this country, and to Uncle Richard (Army, WWII) who died for it:

In Flanders Fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae, MD (1872-1918)
Canadian Army

Friday, May 15, 2009

Going Vertical

The satisfyingly messy project is done -- though if I repaint the trellises, I'll use a brush next time. Even with tarps down, the spray paint went everywhere. I also ended up spraying more paint on the dropcloth than on the narrow slats of the trellises -- not terribly cost-effective. But they are done, dry, and up, adding a splash of gaudy color and a vertical element to an otherwise altogether too horizontal front garden:

The melons I grew in the greenhouse and moved to the cold frame are now planted below and tethered to their trellises, with some flat rocks spray-painted black sitting at their feet to soak up a little extra solar heat. The Charentais melons still look a little bedraggled from their move. Too soon an exposure to full sun, perhaps? Though the new leaves look better:

Sugar Baby watermelons look a little more sturdy. We'll see how they do. Melons are always a chancy proposition in this climate:

The tomatoes and peppers are all snug in their Kozy Koats until night temperatures warm up again. I'm trying the technique of clipping the leaves from the bottom half of the stem and burying the stem horizontally, with the remaining leaves sticking up. The plants grow adventitious roots from the leaf nodes (terms which my students should recognize -- right? Right?), making the whole plant sturdier and giving them more roots to draw up more nutrients and water.

The weather for the next couple of weeks is supposed to be in the 70s and 80s, great for these neotropical crops, but couldn't it have started a few days ago, instead of the day after the field trips are over? But then again, we got only light sprinkles and no torrential downpours while we were out, so there's that to be thankful for.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Students in the Mist. With Orchids.

Field trip week!

This week I took three groups of biology students into the field to do some basic ecological data gathering to come up with some descriptive statistics of the forest. The Cronemiller Lake area in McDonald-Dunn forest (owned by Oregon State University) has extensive stands of Douglas-fir regrowth, some of it fairly old, with a nice selection of native shrubs and not too many invasives.

There was a great deal of this native to contend with -- good ol' Poison-oak:

Leaflets three, let them be, right? Only, it's also a really, really good idea to be familiar with Poison-oak's many growth forms, including vigorous and rampant vines, which made taking the circumference of the large trees a bit of an adventure:

I was trying to get some shots of students at work, which, when taken from the relative safety of the trail, were coming out with a whole Gorillas in the Mist effect.

There... look closely at the base of the large Douglas-fir... you can just see them:

Ah, there's one member of the troop, moving apart from the others:

Oh, and look at this! Isn't this exciting?
Several more emerge from the shelter of the thick shrubs:
And now the sun comes out and we break into a clearing where several groups were hard at work here:

And here:
And that was another thrilling episode of Students in the Mist!

While supervising students and wielding the camera, there are, of course, ample opportunities to get pictures of the forest flora. A vine maple here, its leaves shiny with the morning rain that (hooray!) ceased before we set out:

Hazelnut leaves and catkins catching the afternoon sun:
The plumy white flower and triple triangular leaves of Vanilla Leaf, with the foliage of Fairy Bells in the foreground:

Baneberry, a sensitive species, was in full bloom. It seems to be doing well despite last year's trampling herds of students:
Lots of lovely yellow Wood Violets:

And the wild Bleeding Hearts were in full bloom:

Wild Iris turned up in the clearing:
As did Waterleaf, just coming into flower:

But the prize for the flower-spotter is tiny little Calypso, a native orchid which stands only a couple of inches high:

Monday, May 04, 2009

The garden in May

My current project -- satisfyingly messy, and gaudily colored. I wanted some kind of trellis or something for my melons to climb over, and had plans to build such an item, but on shopping for the materials at the local hardware store, I found some inexpensive wooden trellises and heavy hardwood stakes that would suit. I sprayed them all with a coat of primer, then with some gaudy outdoor enamel. The trellises are brilliant blue, while the stakes that will support the tomatoes are deep purple. That ought to wake up the neighbors.

I had extra time this weekend to work on the project. There was a case of H1N1 flu confirmed at my university, and we shut down for a couple of days while the diagnosing was going on and to prevent any spreading of the virus. For once, I'm all caught up with my grading. We'll be back in business tomorrow, since there don't appear to be any more cases.

Elsewhere in the garden, I came across this ladybug amongst the Aubretia while I was weeding, and the bright little beastie contrasted with the purple and green made such a pleasing picture that I had to dash indoors for my camera:

My teeny pond needs pulling apart and cleaning, and I should probably get a real pond liner instead of black plastic, but it still looks all wild and woodsy with the ferns, cyclamen, and hellebore popping up around it.

Isn't this a fabulous arum? I can't recall the name of it, but I bought it at a plant sale that benefits one of the local historical gardens. I like the long antennae thingie emerging from the mysterious hood.

After the disappearance of my blue glass gazing ball, I moved my little elfin figure to a more secluded spot. A fan of sword fern makes a nice backdrop, with blue geranium and fuzzy caterpillar fern coming up in front.

A little kitten figure, a monument to a 9-week-old kitten who died of coccidia a few years ago, sleeps under the ferns, too.

Lettuce and peas are doing well. We're getting drenching rains today, so they're all getting watered in.

My plants from the greenhouse came home last weekend and are acclimating in the cold frame. They and the trellises will be installed next weekend.

While my lilac bush is still small, its blooms are mighty. These clusters of sweet-smelling blossoms are heavenly!

Now if only this rain would slow down long enough for me to get ahead of the weeds that are romping unchecked all over my yard.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

The garden -- under glass

My summer garden so far! Right now it's just a collection of black plastic pots and youthful, if rather exuberant, seedlings, but this weekend they'll be coming home to spend some time in the cold frame before going out into the garden.

I started these back in March, when everything was cold and blowy, long before tomatoes and melons and squash and peppers should be out in the garden. I my climate, the highly variable Pacific Northwest, such neotropicals pretty much have to be started indoors if you want them to bear fruit. To succeed, plants started indoors need plenty of light. The average window won't do, even if it's south-facing.

A climate-controlled greenhouse is ideal, but rather over-budget for my garden. So now, shall I confess? I borrowed a greenhouse:

Over on the right are the glass shelves my plants are on. This is the greenhouse on the roof of the building where I teach. Nice, huh? I figure I should use the resources that are at hand, and that was one resource very much at hand!

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Earth Day Arugulence

Dahlings, haven't you heard? All this digging in the dirt... er, soil, mixing in manur... er, quality organic plant enhancements, and growing vegetab... er, hoity-toity organic produce, is so terribly faddish these days that it's only for Hollywood celebs and something us ordinary mortals can safely ignore?

Yeah, I didn't get that memo, either.

Maureen Dowd, however, in an editorial about Alice Waters, comments on a growing backlash coming from certain segments of our society against the rising popularity of backyard vegetable gardens. They're fads, you see. People falling for this silly organic stuff. The realm of both chic, elitist yuppies in search of fashionable greens and aging hippies who can't forget the 60's still piddling around in their among the weeds and the weed in their back yards.

Mere arugulence, y'see.

Strange. I grew up in a family where gardens were for saving money and for growing fresh, healthy produce that produced healthy (and sometimes fresh) kids. My parents were born during the Depression, and my grandparents gardened their way through those hard years as a means of getting by.

To dismiss gardening as a mere elitist fad, as arugulence, is a slap in the face of every frugal family that managed to feed itself by getting a little dirt under their nails.

What ever happened to the American kitchen garden? It was crushed under the oncoming steamroller of Consumerism of the 50s, which was driven by a distaste for the scrimping, saving, and doing without of the Depression and the war years. Back alleys disappeared in the new suburbs, front yards were given over to driveways and a tidy facade, and the back yard became not a service entrance and a place for the kitchen garden, but the new outdoor living area.

In recent years, several forces have contributed to the rise in vegetable gardening. One is a growing movement against lawns for ecological reasons: lawns are expensive to maintain both economically and ecologically. Another is a slight but increasing recognition that suburbs can only grow so much and farmlands shrink so much, as suburbs sprawl out over rich farmland, before there isn't enough farmland to feed all the people in those houses. It only makes sense to let some of the farmland that is now suburb give back. Another factor is the recession that we've been falling into for the last couple of years, the full brunt of which we're finally feeling.

As we hunker down for the worst, people are more and more interested in learning survival skills: gardening, spinning, knitting, and the like. Whether we need these skills for survival now isn't the issue. It's about knowing you could grow your food, raise some hens, and knit your own sweater from wool you've spun if you had to that brings a little comfort. And for some people clutching their pink slips and wondering how they'll get through until the next job turns up, that backyard veggie garden may be the means of feeding the kids and giving them something interesting to do all summer.

Arugulence? I think not.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Oh, noes! Organic gardening threatens the American Way!

Or so the Mid America Croplife Association would have it. As you've probably heard by now, Michelle Obama has taken a page out of the life story of First Families of a century ago and is having fresh produce grown on the White House grounds in an organic vegetable garden. Backyard gardeners nationwide are grinning. Vegetable gardens are back in fashion again for multiple reasons, including economics, health, environmental awareness, an interest in a locavore lifestyle, or simply because they want tomatoes that taste like tomatoes, not the flabby imitations we're greeted with all winter at the supermarket.

But wait! Not so fast! According to a letter sent from MACA to Mrs. Obama, the White House veggie garden could be the beginning of a dangerous trend! If people farm all their own food individually, well, it could be the downfall of our society! Better to let the professionals take care of the farming with their superior technology. Or something like that.

Like the only choices are "grow it all yourself on a small farm" or "grow nothing?" Let's take some of their claims apart and see what they're made of. I already posted most of this response on one of the forums on Ravelry, so a few readers may have seen this.

Many people, especially children, don't realize the extent to which their daily lives depend on America's agricultural industry. For instance, children are unaware the jeans they put on in the morning, the three meals eaten daily, the baseball with which they play and even the biofuels that power the school bus are available because of America's farmers and ranchers.

Yes! True! Absolutely true! And exactly the reason why kids should be in the backyard happily digging in their own gardens! If I had my way, the prerequisite for my biology class would be to spend a summer growing an organic garden and observing the microwildlife that inhabits it. Then we'd all have a concrete, common point to start with when we have discussions of ecology, diversity, and the like. As it is, we have students like the one who, when asked, "So why don't the cells in the onion have chloroplasts? Where does the bulb part of the onion grow?" replied, "I don't know. I've never seen an onion tree." This is a college course, mind you. We as Americans are so far removed from our food sources that the resulting ignorance about our food is appalling. Even my biology majors, when shown a stalk of broccoli and asked what part of the plant it was, couldn't recognize flower buds when they saw them -- except a couple of them who had grown broccoli in their own gardens and knew what happened if they didn't cut the head before the buds burst.

Agriculture is the largest industry in America generating 20% of the U.S. Gross Domestic Product. Individuals, family partnerships or family corporations operate almost 99% of U.S. farms.

And they're threatened if people grow a few tomatoes and some fresh lettuce on the back porch? Really? Wow. I think this letter says more about the industrial food complex than all of Michael Pollan's books put together.

Today, an average farmer produces enough food to feed 144 Americans who are living longer lives than many of their ancestors.

Are we hinting here that it's because of chemical-based agriculture that people are living longer? Because one doesn't necessarily follow the other -- little factors like, oh, indoor plumbing, clean municipal water supplies, and advances in medicine just might have something more to do with that.

Technology in agriculture has allowed for the development of much of what we know and use in our lives today. If Americans were still required to farm to support their family's basic food and fiber needs, would the U.S. have been leaders in the advancement of science, communication, education, medicine, transportation and the arts?

The rise in influence of American culture in these areas began well before chemical-based agriculture, when many more people were living on family farms. So what are we saying here? Pesticides make us better artists and engineers? Farmers are ignorant slobs who don't contribute to the arts and sciences so let's have fewer of them doing more with bigger tractors and more chemicals? Huh? This statement really needs to be thought through, because it doesn't flatter our American farmers at all.

We live in a very different world than that of our grandparents. Americans are juggling jobs with the needs of children and aging parents. The time needed to tend a garden is not there for the majority of our citizens, certainly not a garden of sufficient productivity to supply much of a family's year-round food needs.

Well, heavens to Betsy, so few of us can grow a garden large enough to supply all the produce we need to feed us for a year, so let's not garden at all! What a pitiful argument! It's not an either-or situation by any means. Our choices aren't limited to "grow all your own food" and "grow none of your own food." You can grow veggies in a tub on your apartment balcony and devote just a few minutes a day to the operation if you want to.

Much of the food considered not wholesome or tasty is the result of how it is stored or prepared rather than how it is grown.

This, after the whole tomato recall hysteria? And the spinach recall affair? Food handling begins in the field and does affect produce quality. This is true of both organic (what used to be "traditional") farming and "conventional" (or "chemical") farming.

There's one other factor that's not being considered here: the variety that is grown. Most commercial varieties are selected for their shipping and storing qualities, not for their flavor and "wholesomeness." Since most Americans have been raised on plastic strawberries grown out of season in Chile and shipped to the U.S., too few of us have known what a real, warm-from-the-sun, fresh-from-the-vine, peak-of-ripeness strawberry even tastes like. Waxy, flabby tomatoes in the produce section can't hold a candle to a fresh-picked (but tender-skinned) Brandywine or Cherokee Purple, but who is going to know if they don't grow their own? The heirloom varieties aren't sold in the produce section. Lucky are those with a farmer's market nearby where heirloom veggies can still be found. And as for asparagus, if it's not fresh-cut from my own garden, don't even offer it to me. I'm spoiled that way.

Fresh foods grown conventionally are wholesome and flavorful yet more economical.

More economical than what? Be specific. I hope they're not hinting that it's more expensive to grow a vegetable garden. Of course it all depends on how you go about vegetable gardening. We don't all have to grow The $64 Tomato as one book title proclaims. Some of us can exercise more sense.

Local and conventional farming is not mutually exclusive. However, a Midwest mother whose child loves strawberries, a good source of Vitamin C, appreciates the ability to offer California strawberries in March a few months before the official Mid-west season.

I won't comment twice on the quality and flavor of those berries, not when I have much better varieties in my own yard. I won't even begin the argument about eating with the season, and that there are other sources of Vitamin C besides strawberries shipped from afar and stored so long that their vitamins have already begun to degrade. All I'll say is that this is still no argument against growing a backyard garden. Think of how much more Junior would appreciate those berries if he grew them himself in a big pot on the back porch -- and how much more he would learn about where his food comes from.

Look, if putting a veggie garden in behind the White House and encouraging people to grow a little food themselves is a huge gigantic threat to the farming industry, the industry has bigger troubles than anyone realized. Nor are its issues going to be solved by discouraging people from encouraging others to garden and depend totally on supermarket produce. Michelle Obama isn't saying, "Hey, everyone should grow all their own food instead of buying food from the store." We can't all raise chickens, milk cows, and orchards, not in the fringe of grass and shrubs around your average McMansion. But for much of my life I've seen good farmland bulldozed and covered with housing developments, because as every builder knows, building on nice, flat land is easier than building on unfarmed slopes. We've lost acres and acres of prime farmland to suburban sprawl. Isn't it only fitting that at least a little of that land should give back in the form of a home vegetable garden?