Broccoli, collards, garlic, and arugula flank the walkway of the White House’s kitchen garden. Turn right, and you’ll find herbs, Swiss chard, and peas; turn left, and you’ll amble by kohlrabi, radishes, kale, and beets before discovering raspberry bushes.
The lush, productive garden, planted by Michelle Obama and staff in 2009 (the first at the White House since Eleanor Roosevelt’s World War II victory garden) is the picture of healthy eating and responsible farming. But it is far from an accurate picture of crops funded by America’s farm subsidies, says Kitchen Gardeners International, a global community of sustainable food advocates.
Collecting data from the Environmental Working Group’s farm subsidy database, Kitchen Gardeners maps out the difference between the Spring 2011 White House kitchen garden and what the garden would look like planted with crops subsidized by U.S. taxpayers:
The infographic shows corn receiving 35 percent of funding; wheat, 20 percent; cotton, 20 percent; and soybeans, 15 percent. Money is also channeled to cash crops like tobacco, rice, and sorghum. But fruits, vegetables, nuts, and other “specialty crops”? A measly 1 percent.
Roger Doiron, founder and “weeder-in-chief” of Kitchen Gardeners, thinks we should take a hard look at the lack of federal funding for fruits and vegetables. He writes in an email:
As a nation, we’re saying one thing and doing another and need to bring our words and actions in line with one another. We’re saying we should be eating 5–7 portions of fruits and vegetables a day (depending on who you ask) but we’re not supporting the food, farm, and garden infrastructure needed to deliver that diet to 307 million Americans. In fact, we’d need to grow another 13 million acres of produce in the United States if we we’re to meet the minimum daily requirements of fruits and vegetables set by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Farm subsidies are governed by the Farm Bill, an omnibus bill so complex there’s a Facebook page called “Understanding the Farm Bill.” The directive goes beyond subsidies to oversee everything from the country’s food assistance program (SNAP) to community food-program grants to foreign food aid.
“When the last farm bill passed, small farmers and sustainable food advocates had a few things to celebrate, but not as many as they’d hoped for,” says the Center for Urban Education about Sustainable Agriculture (CUESA). Hearings for the 2012 Farm Bill started this week in Michigan, giving an opportunity to think about what we want the future of farming to look like.