1792: Construction on the White House – known first as the ‘President’s House” – begins on what had been a tobacco plantation.
1800: Construction is completed. President John Adams and First Lady Abigail Adams move into the White House as its first residents. Adams plants the first “First Vegetables” but is soon after voted out of office.
1801: Thomas Jefferson takes office, reaps where Adams sowed, and redesigns the garden plan adding a number of ornamental and fruit trees. It is worth noting that some of the first White House gardens, including Jefferson’s, were dug and tended by slaves.
1814: British troops set fire to the house, destroying its interior. Three years of reconstruction and renovations take place which include building the portico and painting the President’s House white.
1825: President John Quincy Adams plants fruit trees, herbs and vegetables to help support his own household.
1835: President Andrew Jackson builds an “orangery” for growing tropical fruit.
1857: Orangery is demolished and a full-scale greenhouse is built.
1902: Greenhouse is demolished and replaced by West Wing.
1918: President Wilson and First Lady Edith Wilson recruit a flock of sheep to mow and fertilize the First Lawn at a time when the country was trying to conserve resources – human, financial and fuel – for the war effort.
1943: First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt plants a large Victory Garden on White House lawn over the objections of the US Department of Agriculture inspiring millions of Americans by her example.
1954: President Dwight Eisenhower installs a putting green on White House lawn.
1979: President Jimmy Carter installs solar panels on the White House roof and tends an herb garden.
1981: President Ronald Reagan removes the solar panels and proposes that ketchup be considered a vegetable for public school lunches, a proposal that is lambasted by health officials and the media and quickly withdrawn.
1990: President George H. W. Bush declares the White House kitchen a “no broccoli zone.”
1995: Chef Alice Waters writes to President Bill Clinton calling for organic gardens on the grounds of the White House and the Vice Presidential mansion. Clinton at one point responds “send me the seeds,” but soon after gets caught sowing his own wild oats in a scandal that becomes the dominant flavor of his second term of office.
My hubby has planted an organic vegetable garden at our home since 1987, as well as several fruit trees. Our Golden Retrievers have loved it, of course, and often have taken to feeding themselves . . . or trying to dig up the spoils (such as sweet potatoes). The organic yield is unbelievable, but sadly, we are virtually the only home in the neighborhood that utilizes much of our small piece of land (1/3 acre) this way.
The future is going to be more fresh, juicy and delicious than a lot of us realize. That’s because edible landscapes are going to be more integrated into our yards, neighborhoods, towns, and cities in the future than they have in the recent past. To make this happen, though, more people need to be asking for and digging these landscapes. Here are a few things you can do to help:
1) Sign the “White House Food Garden Petition” which Eat The View will deliver to the Obamas along with a diverse collection of heirloom seed packets. Eat the View is the citizen-led campaign to plant a large Victory Garden on the White House lawn. (I signed already and it took virtually no time at all.)
2) Identify a landscape near you that you think should be “edible-ized”. Start with your own yard, neighborhood, or child’s schoolyard. You can also ask your elected officials at the state and local level to lead by example. The Governors of Maine, North Carolina & New York are already eating from gardens planted at their official residences.
3) Become a supporter (check out my forum profile page here). Also, grab some great photos or widgets to place on your own webpages and blogs. You can grab photos here and you can get some really cool widgets here. This is our favorite photo.
Learn more about gardening at Kitchen Gardeners International, a 501c3 nonprofit founded in Maine, USA with friends from around the world. Their mission is to empower individuals, families, and communities to achieve greater levels of food self-reliance through the promotion of kitchen gardening, home-cooking, and sustainable local food systems.