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Agricultural chemical industry shudders at organic White House garden

Don't try this at home!

Here's an interesting twist in what appeared to be a piece of all-around good news: when officials at the Mid America Croplife Association discovered that the new White House kitchen garden was to be managed organically, they sent a letter to First Lady Michelle Obama asking her to consider managing the garden "conventionally." At first glance, the letter itself (available here, along with the original breaking of this story) doesn't seem particularly insidious, just a call to appreciate the importance of American agriculture. But a more careful reading reveals the subtext: don't encourage Americans to grow their own food, because it's not practical, and don't encourage them to think that organic food is somehow superior to "conventional" agricultural products.

This passage, for example, seems to militate against the idea that individual families can realistically raise even a portion of their own food:

If Americans were still required to farm to support their family's basic food and fiber needs, would the U.S. have been leaders in the advancement of science, communication, education, medicine, transportation and the arts?

And this sentence shifts the blame for poor nutritional values and tainted food to the retailers and home cooks:

Much of the food considered not wholesome or tasty is the result of how it is stored or prepared rather than how it is grown.

There are legitimate arguments to be made in favor of some non-organic farming methods, especially programs based on IPM (Integrated Pest Management) and on advanced ecologically sound soil management practices. It's also true that you would be hard-pressed, from a purely nutritional standpoint, to assert the inherent superiority of organically-grown food. But the authors of this letter are not conscientious farmers facing the reality of uncertain weather, evolving pests, rampant disease, and fluctuating markets. The authors of this letter make and distribute agricultural chemicals (it's a requirement for MACA membership) and they include representatives from companies with names like Monsanto, Dow AgroSciences, Syngenta, BASF Corporation, and Bayer CropScience, some of the giants of modern pesticides, herbicides, and genetically modified crops.

The real smoking gun, however, is not to be found in the letter itself, but rather in an email sent round to MACA members. Someone passed this email, and the original letter, on to individuals who have embraced the cause of safe food and sustainable agriculture, and they published it. Here's the money quote:

Did you hear the news? The White House is planning to have an "organic" garden on the grounds to provide fresh fruits and vegetables for the Obama's [sic] and their guests. While a garden is a great idea, the thought of it being organic made Janet Braun, CropLife Ambassador Coordinator and I shudder.

Shudder? The idea that our First Lady is modeling independence and environmental responsibility makes these people shudder? I'm inclined to give large portions of the green industry a break – it's a tough calling, no matter what side of it you're on, and we all depend on its products – but the industry needs to get on board with the new realities of life on earth. Sustainability, responsibility, and well being for all: these are the ideals of the Obama administration, and I think they need to be the ideals of the green industry as well.


Just to add insult to injury, by the way, the original letter is addressed to "Mrs. Barack Obama." Forget about that strong, independent role as First Lady, Michelle. To a reactionary industry, your real role is defined by your relationship to your husband.


  • SE Michigan Home & Living Examiner 5 years ago

    This is a fascinating article. GMO is scary to the "organic" crowd. Organic is scary to the "conventional" crowd.

    Jackie DiGiovanni

  • Dale 5 years ago


    Farming is a subversive activity.

  • Byron 5 years ago

    "It's also true that you would be hard-pressed, from a purely nutritional standpoint, to assert the inherent superiority of organically-grown food."

    Where'd you get that idea?

    Google: Sourcewatch "Monsanto and the Campaign to Undermine Organics". Within that article your find the subheading "Superiority of Organic Food". There's all kinds of evidence of the nutritional superiority of organic food.

  • Tim 5 years ago

    This is a great article. I hope organic gardening makes a comeback.

  • Mauibrad 5 years ago


    I too noticed they address the First Lady as "Mrs. Barack Obama." That is an awkward address and inappropriate from the first words of the letter.

    I liked your sharing what appeared in an e-mail with the letter among those industry lobbyists, "Did you hear the news? The White House is planning to have an "organic" garden on the grounds to provide fresh fruits and vegetables for the Obama's [sic] and their guests. While a garden is a great idea, the thought of it being organic made Janet Braun, CropLife Ambassador Coordinator and I shudder."

    These people are worried about the wrong things.

  • Patti Romano 5 years ago

    Great article!
    Organic gardening IS making a comeback. And that is a wonderful thing! Even if people grow part of their produce at home, how rewarding for themselves and their children, how healthy to consume eat and to be outdoors, and how it puts the mind at ease to know you have some control over the chemicals on your food.

    Charleston Green Living Examiner Patti Romano

  • Bonita 5 years ago

    "It's also true that you would be hard-pressed, from a purely nutritional standpoint, to assert the inherent superiority of organically-grown food."

    Have you people ever heard of researching before making such totally ignorant and incorrect statements! Luckily, in this case I've done it for you. Google these study titles that prove organic food is nutritionally superior.

    Comparison of Organic and Conventional Corn,
    Soybean, Alfalfa, Oats, Rye Crops at the Neely-Kinyon Long-Term Agroecological Research (LTAR) Site-2000

    New Studies Show Organic Food has Higher Nutritional Quality

    Organic is Better For You Than Conventionally Grown Foods Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture March 27, 2007

    Organic veg given health boost

    Comparison of the Total Phenolic and Ascorbic Acid Content of Freeze-Dried and Air-Dried Marionberry, Strawberry, and Corn Grown Using Conventional, Organic, and Sustainable
    Agricultural Practices. DANNY K. ASAMI, YUN-JEONG HONG, DIANE M. BARRETT

    Salmonella levels over 5x higher in battery eggs than organic 01.02.08

    Study Shows Organic Milk Contains More Vitamins and Health-Promoting Antioxidants

    Ten-Year Comparison of the Influence of Organic and Conventional Crop Management Practices on the Content of Flavonoids in Tomatoes

    I could go on but you get the picture! There are also studies that prove the organic harvests are as good or better than conventional and that organic agriculture is better for the environment, although that's a no brainer!
    Will you have the balls to publish these facts and correct the misinformation in your article?

  • Marc Montefusco 5 years ago

    I'm aware that there are studies which show a nutritional advantage for organically grown foods. I'm also aware of other studies which show no statistically significant nutritional advantage. Some experts feel that the quality of crop management is more significant than the method or philosophy used, and I tend to agree with them. There are lots of other very good arguments for organic farming. I use organic principles in my own work, and I support organic growers with my dollars. I just think the jury is out on clear nutritional advantages, and that we have a lot of other data that is less ambiguous.

  • maria 5 years ago

    marc - even if there were no nutritional adavantage, at least I wouldn't be ingesting carcinogens!

  • maria 5 years ago

    What is this nonsense about time available for gardening? Geesh. Turn off the TV and spend 30 minutes a day - DONE! Or maybe turn part of the lawn you mow into a garden and till and weed instead of mow? There are many methods to keep weeding and watering to a minimum - I should know; I use them. Also, it is FUN, it's not work. Maybe if they paid less for whole food than they do for processed, they could work less hours at the job..... you get the picture.

  • Joe 5 years ago

    There is no reason whatsoever for a homeowner or White House inhabitant to grow "conventionally". For a small diverse plot, especially in an urban area, the organic garden would be just fine.

    Non organic is necessary for large acreage of mono culture crops. This letter is an industry position based on perception and business, not reality of a residential homeowner. Obama needs to decide whether he is a puppet of big corporations to the point where he has to reign in his wife and kids for wanting to garden without chemicals. I personally don't want to garden with chemicals, I eat my food!!! What is more healthy eating food grown with chemicals or organically. Its that simple and the answer is very clear that organic is superior in a small garden.

    This is ESPECIALLY true with children who are more at risk over chemical use than adults.

    Good job Obama family now stick to your guns and don't let the lobbies bully you around!!! As promised. "Yes we can" garden organically!

  • Carrie 5 years ago

    "If Americans were still required to farm to support their family's basic food and fiber needs, would the U.S. have been leaders in the advancement of science, communication, education, medicine, transportation and the arts?"

    Lots of American families still farm to produce some of their own food (and fiber) and those companies (in MACA) and many others appear to prefer that we don't do anything to free ourselves from their giant ag-pharma machine. Most of the world population has yet to understand it, but control of the food supply is probably one of the most important freedom issues of our times.

    Ironically, it is my understanding that much of the boom in modern "conventional" farming methods took place around the end of WWII, when chemicals used for bombs and other purposes during the war (ammonium nitrate, DDT, etc.) were in surplus, and offered to farmers as an easy way to increase production and kill pests. Isn't it ironic that these chemicals which are so important to conventional agriculture grew out of the terrors of war. How foolish would we be to believe that only benign and good advances in society came as byproducts originating from that type of source?

  • trudy 5 years ago

    Well, Michelle changed her last name to Obama. I don't think we can keel over in shock if someone refers to her as Mrs. Barack Obama.

  • L Marina C Cabanilla Maza 5 years ago

    Michelle Obama is great to start an organic garden to feed her family and inspire a nation to do the same in their own plot of land. I rent a 10'x20' plot in the Manoa Recreational Garden Association's district park next to a Senior Affordable Residence and Manoa Elementary School. It is a wonderful program in Honolulu, Hawaii that encourages organic gardening with mtgs and community garden cleanup get togethers including potlucks afterwards. Good Organic Gardening is like the Victory Gardens of 60 yrs ago during WW II. We still need gardens for good healthy food and beautiful flowers!
    Aloha from Manoa Rainbow Valley, Honolulu, Hawaii


  • Suzanne 5 years ago

    Very exciting that the White House has a great organic vegie patch. Should provide some space for all the family to clear their heads and enjoy nature at work. There is nothing better than spending time with the earth. Enjoy.

  • Eva T 5 years ago

    Thanks to you Marc and... THANKS to my farmer grandfather who fed thousands back when the conventional way was organic.
    I miss the good taste and value of FOOD.

    Eva of Toronto Canada

  • cheryl 5 years ago

    I would think that anyone who takes the time/effort involved in veggie gardening (or any type)for that matter, would certainly devote equal effort to maintaining the garden without relying solely on chemicals. Planting & walking away isn't why we gardeners garden!! They make it sound as though without chemicals you will not have produce! "You plant, water,& MUST douse in Glyphocancer"... & presto! a few months later you harvest food. Puhleeeze! I thought TV commercials were insulting...GREAT ARTICLE! Now, can we get MORE MEDIA on the whole SEED SAVING/Monsanto/ RURAL CLEANSING issue? Why isn't any of this covered on mainstream TV "news" at night? I don't see the letter 'M' in any of the networks...

  • Dena E. Bolton/Nashville Gardening Examiner 5 years ago

    The chemical lobby is concerned not with our health or the nutritional value of organically-grown foods but with their own bottom line. From their addressing the First Lady as "Mrs. Barack Obama" to their self-serving arguments against organic gardening and the home gardener, they have shown themselves to be true misogynists. The threat they perceive is not to the small, local farmer (from whom I buy certain vegetables that I do not grow in my own garden) but to the large commercial farms, who are the primary customers of these large chemical companies. And as far as innovation goes, I have just decided that I am going to write an article about a small, local farmer who is working on something quite innovative (and which will probably upset the big oil companies if he is successful).

    By the way, I have been gardening organically for years. I rely on companion planting (see my home page for one article on it) and have found this type of gardening just makes more sense.

    Thanks for reporting on this. Of course, the main concern for the First Lady in regard to the White House Garden is that Bo apparently loves tomatoes. I hope she planted extras.

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