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Digging in

Scrutinizing the sustainable-farming message
By DEIRDRE FULTON  |  April 28, 2008
King Corn

"Kernel-industrial complex: Examining a landscape where crops only feed food." By Chrsitopher Gray.

A Mainer wants the next president to “eat the view”

You may think you’re clever, you with your anticipatory 1.20.09 sticker (we know it’s Bush’s Last Day — way to ruin the subtlety), but Roger Doiron’s gone a step further. The Scarborough resident, who founded and runs Kitchen Gardeners International, an organization that promotes home gardening and provides resources for backyard farmers, came up with a suggestion for what our new president should do on his or her first day in office: start a vegetable garden on the White House lawn.

The idea has proved so wildly popular that it shot to the top of the list at, a Web site filled with advice for our next commander-in-chief.

“It involves no new spending, but rather redirects underutilized natural and human resources towards a more productive and more socially-responsible end,” Doiron said in a press release last week. What’s more, “if this can happen at the state level, there’s no reason it can’t happen on the federal level,” he said in a phone interview, referring to Maine first lady Karen Baldacci’s installation of a vegetable garden and greenhouse at the Blaine House in Augusta.

There have been gardens on White House grounds before: sheep grazed the lawn in the early 1900s; Eleanor Roosevelt tended to a “Victory Garden” during World War II in an effort to set an example for American citizens; local-food guru Alice Waters tried to get the Clintons to plant one in the 90s, but the idea fell through. Hey, if nothing else, a garden would provide a discontented electorate with convenient access to tomatoes (for throwing purposes) right?

When The Real World goes green, you begin to wonder whether we’ve reached critical mass on this whole environmentalism/eco-chic/rolling-out-the-green-carpet schtick. That’s right, folks — America’s favorite booze-hounds (and, this time around, aspiring starlets) are living the green life in Hollywood this season, in a house filled with solar panels, bamboo flooring, and energy-efficient appliances. With these seven strangers (who will offer weekly eco-tips) adding their voices to the cacophony of Earth-lovers, whom can we trust anymore? And really, considering the level of media saturation, is anyone listening?

The question became relevant as I pondered the SPACE Gallery’s upcoming “Food + Farm” event, put on in collaboration with the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association, which will “examine our access to sustainable food” over the course of the weekend. Several local experts will be on hand, including authors and farmers Eliot Coleman and Barbara Damrosch of the Four Season Farm in Harborside, King Corn filmmaker Ian Cheney, Slow Food Portland organizer David Buchanan, Roger Doiron of Kitchen Gardeners International, and John Bliss and Stacy Brenner of the Broadturn Farm in Scarborough. With firsthand experience, they will discuss the importance of farms that produce healthy, non-chemically-altered, fresh foods — and why we need more of those in our diets, not only for our own well-being, but for the Earth’s.

But just who are these green messages reaching? Will there be attendees who don’t already shop at the farmers' market, who aren’t already MOFGA members, who haven’t read The Omnivore’s Dilemma? Will any of them actually need persuading? Of course there is always value in preaching to the choir, galvanizing the troops, and whatnot. But how can these activists be sure they’re also attracting new members into the fold? How can they know that their earnest efforts aren’t being overshadowed by corporate greenwashing?

The Phoenix got the chance to ask several of this weekend’s speakers a few of those very questions. What follows are some of their edited responses, which we received via e-mail and in phone interviews. Dig in! (And look for more at

What aspect of food and farming is most important to you?
DOIRON I’m trying to take the local food revolution to its logical extreme. I’m trying to get people actively involved in the production of their own food. And cooking ... It’s one thing to encourage people to grow Swiss chard, but if you don’t know how to do something inspired with it then they’re ultimately not going to be won over to the homegrown cause.

BEAL My father is a dairy farmer, and all my life I have watched him work harder than anyone I know, yet struggle to make ends meet. The most important aspect to me personally is for people to know that our farmers are some of our most valuable resources, and to make more visible the hard work that goes into producing our food, particularly food that is produced in a way that is healthy for all.

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  Topics: Lifestyle Features , Barbara Damrosch , Eliot Coleman , John Bliss ,  More more >
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