A couple of weeks ago I had the pleasure of attending TEDxDirigo here in Portland, Maine and hung out with and listened to some of the most interesting people in Maine talk about their work and the things they're passionate about. I joined ~249 other Mainers in the audience for a day of big ideas and thought provocation.
Organized by Adam Burk and his talented team of volunteers, TEDx Dirigo really showcased the amazing people doing worldchanging work right here in wooded state. I wanted to share some of the good things Mainers are doing and have interviewed 12 people from that day. They were presenters, audience members, and organizers. All of them are working to make the world a better place.
My first interviewee has the distinction of having helped the Obama's put a garden in at their home- the White House. Roger Doiron is the founder of Kitchen Gardeners (we've covered them before) and was one of the driving influencers behind the White House getting a garden. His presentation at TEDxDirigo was funny, powerful, engaging, and hopeful. He was kind enough to agree to answer these six questions. Enjoy!
MNN: What is special about Maine?
Roger Doiron: When people think about Maine and Maine food, they often think of lobster, clams, and blueberries which is a good start, but I don’t think most people realize how much of a leader Maine is in the area organic gardening. We’re home to several national seed companies, MOFGA (the oldest and largest organic farming and gardening association in the country) and prominent garden writers like Eliot Coleman and Barbara Damrosch. And with Kitchen Gardeners International being founded in Maine, I think we could make a spirited case for Maine being the kitchen garden capital of the world!
How should people get more involved in the world?
To get more people involved in kitchen gardening in the US and abroad, we need to increase access to land and horticultural education, two things without which gardens can’t exist. I also think we need to have a better understanding of garden incentives and obstacles in society. I was in the Netherlands earlier this year and was blown away to learn that 26% of all trips taken there are by bicycle. If that’s the case, I think it’s because the Dutch have made cycling the easiest way to travel by investing in bicycle education and infrastructure. I think we need to make kitchen gardens the easy, natural choice for our seasonal produce which will mean taking a hard look at our lifestyles and how we choose to spend our time. Currently, the average American family spends 31 minutes a day preparing, eating and cleaning up after meals, but manages to find several hours a day for watching TV, computer and handheld screens. I think we need to reflect on and reorder our priorities. Gardening takes time and work, but it’s good work and time well spent.
Why did the First Lady turn to you for help in building the White House Garden?
To set the record straight, she didn’t turn to me for help. I think the more accurate way to put it is that over 100,000 garden advocates turned to her to show leadership in this area and she heard our call. I began KGI’s campaign for a White House kitchen garden a year before the Obamas settled in at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue which allowed us to build a lot of online momentum (we had over 110,000 petition signatures) and press attention for the idea. But, in a way, I think our campaign did help the First Lady plant the garden by making it clear to her just how much the American people wanted this garden to happen. It was still a bold and visionary move on her part, but our campaign may have taken some of the political risk out of it for her.
What's the best way for a complete beginner to get into gardening?
One of the easiest and most rewarding kitchen gardens to start is a salad garden. Lettuces and other salad greens don’t require much space or maintenance, grow quickly, and consequently can produce multiple harvests in one year in most parts of the country. If you plant a “cut-and-come-again” salad mix available through most seed companies and garden supply stores, you can grow 5-10 different salad varieties in a single row. And to the extent that you’re prepared to construct a cold frame (which can be both easy and cheap to do with salvaged storm windows), you can grow some hearty salad greens year round.
How do we fix Food?
We need to do different things at different levels. On the global level, countries need to make a real commitment - moral, political and financial - to eradicating hunger. At the federal and state levels, we need to reallocate resources that are currently contributing to our food and health problems and redirect them towards the solution which will mean, among others things, changing the flavor of the federal Farm Bill. If a picture is worth a 1000 words, these two images offers 2000 words worth of what’s right and wrong with the status quo.
In a nutshell, to the extent that we're subsidizing farms and foods which we are, we ought to be subsidizing the right types of farms and foods. And at the local level, we need to take a fresh look at our living spaces and find creative ways to integrate gardens and edible landscapes into them, especially for those who currently don’t have access to a garden plot.
Shea's note: Here I asked Roger to come up with an answer his own question.
Rather than ask and answer my own question, I’d rather put a few to MNN’s readers. At the peak of the Victory Garden movement, 40% of the nation's produce was being sourced from gardens whereas now it's probably 2-3% at the most. What do you think we need to do to take the kitchen garden revolution to the next level? What obstacles need to be removed? What incentives need to be put in place?
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