UC Davis‘ very own graduate student in International Agriculture Development Margaret Lloyd might someday be President Barack Obama’s personal White House Farmer.
The idea for position came from Michael Pollan, author of The Omnivore’s Dilemma, who wants the president to devote five acres of the White House lawn to be a sustainable organic farm. While the Obama administration hasn’t yet agreed to the plan, Lloyd and her colleagues are hard at work lobbying to make the idea a reality.
Lloyd is one of four nominees for the position as the result of a national online poll. Produce from the farm would go straight to the White House dinner table, with surplus crops going to a local food bank.
The 28-year-old graduate of Tufts University began her own private business called Home Farming in the Bay Area setting up small backyard farms. She also spearheaded the effort to create the “Salad Bowl” in front of the Plant and Environmental Sciences building, which is a communal organic farm on campus.
Where did you grow up and do your undergrad?
I’m what they call a TCK: a third culture kid. I was born of parents from one culture, raised in a different culture and thus created my own cultural identity, which is a blend of those and therefore a “third culture.” I spent my childhood split between [California’s] Silicon Valley and Asia (Hong Kong and Tokyo).
I moved to Medford, Mass. to do my undergraduate studies in international relations and environmental science at Tufts University. From Medford, I found my way around several farms in Hawaii, Northern California and other places, to finally arrive back in school, here in Davis.
Why did you come to UC Davis?
It was my top choice because the College of Agricultural Sciences has a huge faculty working on an impressive range of topics, an active field research and farming effort including places [such as] the student farm, greenhouses and research fields, an extension service and the new Agriculture Sustainability Institute.
What’s the position of White House Farmer? How did the idea evolve?
Michael Pollan wrote an article in the New York Times on Oct. 9 for a ‘Farmer-in-Chief‘. He described digging up five acres of the White House lawn to plant organic vegetables, which could feed the first family and local food banks.
This inspired the Brockmans, a farm family in Illinois, to hold a national nomination for the position. Starting in November 2008, they accepted nominations, which were then voted on during a 10-day poll.
Over these 10 days, more than 55,000 American voted! I was nominated 6 days into the polling, and over 4 days received more than 5300 votes. I never knew that was possible, but it showed to me how strong our community is here in Davis and beyond, and that people were excited about a White House farm.
This has been an incredible reflection of the healthy network and how quickly it can mobilize when the moment is ripe. The other winners have also been impressed by both their community support and widespread interest, and we have collectively unified our efforts to get a farm to the White House.
How are you planning to lobby the administration?
The top four vote getters, along with the Brockmans, are working together to assemble a package for the president.
We’re taking this opportunity to raise awareness about the importance of our food system and food choices. A White House farm would send a powerful message across the country saying that change is here, that you can be an instrument of change and that President Obama’s promise of change includes our food system.
It would both provide a model of home scale food raising and in the broader message, prompt a stronger dialogue within the agricultural industry to design a more sustainable food system.
We are using a combination of letters of support from political and social leaders, design images, signatures of Americans and media coverage to compile a package in support of a White House farm.
UC Davis has been a tremendous source of support. They have been working hard to contact our state and national representatives. Landscape architecture is helping generate designs for the garden and the College of Agriculture is offering ideas for best practices.
Have you thought about what you would plant?
The food garden reflects what is served on the dinner plate, so the question is: what do [people] like to eat? Everybody has their food preferences whether it’s potatoes or arugula, and that’s what you plant.
Of course in this case, it’s wonderful to have master chefs who know the flavor and texture of food and a wide range of edibles, perhaps even better than the farmer, so the relationship of growing dynamic food for dynamic cuisine certainly deepens the experience for the both the farmer and chefs.
What grows in the Salad Bowl outside the Plant and Environmental Science Building? Who tends to it?
The garden grows a range of vegetables that are delicious when eaten raw. At the moment, we have arugula, lettuce, celery, fennel, chard, broccoli, Asian mustard, green onions, parsley, and several others. Because we grow year round at this site, we have soil-building crop of fava beans growing in two the beds currently. Before long, we’ll have the tomatoes planted, signaling the transition into our spring/summer crops.
The garden is tended by a group of graduate and undergraduate students, staff, faculty and UC Davis grounds services. Roughly once a month, we spend a few hours either transplanting or maintaining the 600 square feet of land. Anybody is welcome to join and it’s a wonderfully diverse and unique group of individuals who volunteer their time.
What’s your favorite vegetable?
I love potatoes. Perhaps it’s the Irish in me, but there’s nothing more thrilling than hunting through the soil with my potato fork, searching for those golden nuggets. And freshly harvested potatoes have a deliciously delicate texture that is lost with time.
I love the range of potatoes varieties to choose from which is much wider that the varieties in the stores and farmers markets. I can grow small purple potatoes, or oblong golden spuds, and my potato experience is completely different! Also, the fact that potatoes store well is also why I love them. I can save them in a dark, cool spot without processing them for a good many months. That’s very convenient!
What would be a good vegetable for students to plant in Davis to start off their garden?
In the spring or fall, I would recommend lettuce. Lettuce is very easy to grow because it doesn’t require ‘full sun‘, but can tolerate bright areas with only a handful of hours of sunlight a day. This can be a common situation around buildings and fences, so it’s nice to know what will thrive there.
Lettuce is also a great home grown crop because the crispness of lettuce is at its best the moment you pick it and it only deteriorates from then, so you get a ‘crisp‘ you can’t buy!
On a more practical sense, I often find myself in the situation where I have the fixings for lettuce, but the lettuce in the fridge is old, or I used it all up, so it’s convenient to have a homegrown source. Aesthetically, lettuce also has a beautiful rosette shape and a luminescence that glows in the sunlight.
ALYSOUN BONDE can be reached at email@example.com.