After this epic election, it’s hard to focus on anything else besides the new president-elect. So I will write about my hopes as a farmer and a food advocate for what this historic election might bring. I am a localist; therefore, I believe we must be cautious in putting too much hope in national politics. However, presidents set a tone for the nation, for the local places all around the country and even the world. And there are important policy questions that the next president will face that will have a great affect on the future of our food system, determining in many ways whether it will be a good one or a bad one.

As Michael Pollan wrote in an Open Letter to the next president, “You, like so many other leaders through history, will find yourself confronting the fact — so easy to overlook these past few years — that the health of a nation’s food system is a critical issue of national security. Food is about to demand your attention.”  This is because, as Pollan writes, unless the next president addresses the food system, “[He] will not be able to make significant progress on the health care crisis, energy independence or climate change.”  Food and how we grow it is central to all of these questions because we have been running since the Nixon administration on a food system that depends on fossil fuels to produce low quality and high quantities of food. This system has produced a great deal of food, but it has also produced obesity, an increasing prevalence of type II diabetes, and an agricultural system that depends on a horribly polluting substance—oil.

It’s crucial that as Obama takes office he begins to think about these issues and how to address them. One of the most important moves he can take is both practical and symbolic. Not only should Obama appoint a chef to the White House who understands good food and will serve meals made from local ingredients, he should appoint a White House Farmer. There is a group that has been touring the country this year promoting the idea of a White House organic farm.

Such a farm, built on the extensive White House grounds, would be a symbol of independence, freedom, and self-sufficiency. But it would also be a symbol of the community that local food production builds. As The White House Organic Farm project lays out in its plan, the farm should involve school children and Americans with disabilities to help grow the farm’s produce. The farm should also be built with compost from the food waste of the three branches of government. Its produce, in addition to supplying the White House itself, should be delivered by bicycle to local food pantries and schools. 

Inauguration day is January 20th, 2009, and it will no doubt be an historic gathering. It is also a good time to begin breaking ground for spring planting. It is my hope that the invitations that go out for the great celebration of this new president will include a note at the bottom indicating “BYOS: Bring Your Own Shovel.”

Story by Ragan Sutterfield. This article originally appeared in Plenty in November 2008.

Copyright Environ Press 2008