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March 21, 2009

Michelle’s Garden

Michelle's garden.jpg

After the insanity of this past week, thank God for Michelle Obama and the emotional ballast she offers this troubled country.

To see a White House photo without a shred of evidence of the physical White House, but just the grounds (as if forest) — when have you seen that before? Michelle’s White House vegetable garden and her week-ending photo-op embodies desperately-needed vitality. It’s a picture full of attributes that have been in short supply, including: grounding, growth, industry, cooperation.

Maybe I’ll stumble across this post in the future and wonder what I was smoking to want to all-of-a-sudden morph into a romantic poet. I hope, if I do, I’ll have next-to-no memory of how this week, otherwise, was so full of toxicity.

I’m so desperately hoping for a break from all the witch hunts and the hysteria. In the meantime, I’m soothed by that expression, Michelle’s aria to Spring.

(Update: Beware the kool-Aid, right? Looking through the discussion so far, I especially appreciate the links to the Taibbi piece and the Iraq video, as well as the take about the boots.)

(image: Jason Reed/Reuters. caption: U.S. first lady Michelle Obama joins 5th grade students from the Bancroft Elementary School during a groundbreaking ceremony for the new White House Kitchen Garden in Washington, March 20, 2009. The garden will grow about 25 varieties of fruits and vegetables which will be harvested by the White House kitchen for consumption at the White House.)

  • jonst

    Hey Bag, I voted, and worked, for Obama’s election. And I like his wife. But she offers absolutely zero ballast, emotional or otherwise, to me. At this point in the game I want facts. Facts. And more facts, that work to put a progressive stamp on the policies of the US govt. To the extent that is done….I have ballast.
    And with regard to what you term “hysteria”, brother, wait till it dawns on people that this is no ‘usual recession’. That what you lost will stay lost. Forever. That we may be at the beginning of some 15-20 year cycle. That was how long it took to get things straight after the last great bank failure. 1929-1949, or so.
    This past week may seem like a kindergarten party compared to what might be coming. The lesson of this crisis is; despite what we had come to believe, there are some things that EVEN high powered 24/7 spin can’t change.

  • bystander

    Hate to admit it, but I’m pretty much with jonst on this. To be fair, I admit that this is a lovely image, the kids, an animated Michelle, a pastoral background … communicating a roll up your sleeves and get to work industry. Given the violence that has been done to system that allows us to provision for ourselves (the economy), and give meaning to our lives (work), we all need to experience a “good thing” daily. For me, yesterday, it was being a part of a serendipitous chain of people that returned two charming, clueless, stray dogs to their frantically searching owner. Wide smiles, and an overflow of good feelings all around. That’s what offered me emotional ballast for that day.
    When we confront the media and the people purported to represent us in government we portrayed as the violence doers. The language of We the People trying to wrest back control of our economic lives has been expressed as a cram down, or a claw back. As a witch hunt, or crude populism. As though we are the source of the violence. Set the descriptive language aside for a moment. What other options do we have, aside from sitting down and taking our medicine quietly as though we are the sick party in these events.
    As much as I appreciate this lovely image, and the fact that it could offer emotional balance for some, it fails to buoy me. Michelle is a lovely and accomplished first lady. I wish her well. I’m glad she shares a close relationship with her children and her spouse. Etc. But, right now, I need the symbols of serenity and emotional support much closer to home.
    Matt Taibbi recently wrote,

    People are pissed off about this financial crisis, and about this bailout, but they’re not pissed off enough.

    I’m afraid this is true. Some NPR commentator noted that there are civil disturbances occurring in France and Greece, and wonders why it’s not happening here. I’m wondering, too.

  • Chris O’Connell

    I guess The First Lady or the President have ever read HR875. If this bill passes, it will put her plans in the toilet along with anyone else that wants to farm or plant a garden. Our country should be just as outraged by some of the stupid bills waiting for votes as they are about AIG. It’s enough to suck the life force out of everyone!

  • lytom

    Somehow I see a denial of reality in this picture of “Garden”… Michelle seems to be singing…
    Otherwise, jeans would have been better suited for the picture of actually working. The kids have more sense.
    Now to mark this day the 6 year anniversary of invasion, war on Iraq and continuous occupation, this video would sum it up great!

  • a brown

    What do I see? A photo Op. Dressed as she is and holding the rake like she is makes me see anything but someone ready to do some gardening. The idea is great (I’ll be doing some myself this year) but the optics of this particular picture screams PHONY.
    If anything, this picture makes me think of Zsa Zsa Gabor in Green Acres. All that’s mssing is the big diamond around the neck.

  • Christine

    I’m with Bag on this, though I don’t disagree with those who say “we’re in deep sh*t”. I know it’s even worse than the spin is making it. I don’t have any sources of inspiration or renewal or “emotional ballast” near me, unfortunately. This image of Michelle reminds me that, in spite of the cold, it is spring; there’s still hope, there are things we can do to take care of ourselves through what’s coming. And the fact that she’s in city clothes, not farming clothes, speaks to me too. It’s not like I’m equipped to go farming here in my NYC apartment, but I’m stockpiling food and preparing a “go” bag, and staying in touch with friends for mutual support.
    It’s not that I don’t want to hear about what’s going on. I need hope, too, or I might just give up.

  • Gasho

    What an interesting post! The Bag is trying to see the lighter side, despite the wreckage. These comments show us that the hole we are in IS really deep.
    I took Michelle’s gardening project as the best news of the week. I’m an Alice Waters fan. Growing food in the Earth and living off (or better yet, with) the land. I’m all for it.
    The photo of the event, though, leaves me slightly disappointed. Black shiny boots?? REally? Jeans would have been a start, but those boots with the buckle.. That is NOT a gardening outfit at all. If we are going to see her getting in there and doing it – modeling the behavior, then it needs to look right. She should have taken a few tips from Martha Stewart.. and worn the appropriate clothing. High-end fashionable gardening clothes must exist somewhere..
    And.. Where’s the DIRT?? I see some clumpy grass. I want to see DIRT. Hopefully, some follow-up pics show a little more progress. I’m going to the WH site now to find me some DIRT…

  • cenoxo

    To really go green, you’ve got to get back to the land…

    American Gothic 2009*

    …it’s the 21st Century, America, so dig in.
    *Adapted from American Gothic 1930, by Grant Wood.

  • cenoxo

    Love the black patent leather belt and buckled boots — they match the shiny new shovels nicely.
    Speaking of shovel-ready, will we all have fresh veggies for Sunday dinner in the East Wing?

  • jtfromBC

    To really go green, you’ve got to get back to the land…thanks cenoxo
    a destination suggestion, for Michelle’s first official foreign visit

  • nightbird

    So this pic would be more inspiring if she wore something different… sheesh. Stop wallowing in cynical doom, gloom and self pity. DO something. Be it planting something and watching it grow… calling your mom/dad… invite friends(mom/dad) over for pot luck, talk (not text) to a real person, share your sandwich with the hungry… turn off the computer, cell phone and tv and get out into the world. It needs you.
    The way I see it today, is we have asked for change and may not get it and things might just get a whole lot, lot worse. I have a note posted to myself that reads “be the change”. A few months back that meant working my butt to get Obama elected. The challenge is still on folks. “Being the change” is as much our challenge to keep as it is our expectations of change in Washington. It may not happen there but it can happen here or where ever you may be on the planet.

  • cenoxo

    The depth and severity of this ongoing financial collapse — we ain’t seen nothin’ yet, folks — is not caused by homeowners who cannot pay their mortgages, but by the greedy blunders of American financial institutions who took the bad (and the good) mortgages, repackaged them by the tens of thousands into new financial instruments, wildly leveraged their values with no additional collateral to back them up, and resold them to other financial institutions, many of whom repeated the same process all over again. Wash, rinse, and repeat.
    Now that those institutions have been caught with their hair down, they’re trying avoid a haircut by blackmailing the Bush and Obama administrations with thinly veiled threats that they’re too big to fail. They increasingly sound like the murder defendant, on trial for killing his parents, who begs the court for mercy because he’s now an orphan.
    Both administrations — Wasn’t there an election a few months ago that was hopefully going to change things? — have rallyed to the flag by giving billion$/trillion$ of (sooner or later) taxpayer dollars to these same institutions in hopes of doing what, exactly? Restarting the same Ponzi schemes? Even with the relatively huge amounts that are being given away, it’s like pissing into an ocean of criminally bad debt.
    While the First Farmer and his Team are busy plowing even more generations of money into the sinkholes dug by these thieves, the First Lady — looking more like she’s gettin’ down for another Vogue photo shoot than gettin’ down in the dirt, is encouraging thrifty behavior for millions of newly laid off (and otherwise poor) Americans by planting vegetable gardens, for G_d’s sake. Let them eat cucumbers.
    A home-grown garden does provide one very valuable life lesson, however. The more sh.., er, manure you can shovel into it, the better the harvest. At least that’s one political resource that’s grows well in all soil conditions, even on the Street.
    Four more years of this diet, and there will be many angry people who won’t want the Party — if only there were two of them — to stay in office.

  • garyb50

    Ignoring the “things are so in the shitter this photo op is pathetic’ comments, I will say this; I was very disappointed by the video of this event.
    Wrong garb, has never held a garden tool of any kind in her hands.
    This is not how you make a vegetable garden out of turf.
    The kids learned nothing – yet will come away with a lifelong belief that they did ‘Do Something.’
    How much more genuine would it have been to have people who actually know how to do this ‘transformation’ give a little talk & do a show & tell?
    Think how many people in this country have knowledge & experience with this – and know how to garden. They should have been there.
    As much as I agree with the ‘idea’ this is the sourest note of Obama’s 1st 2 months.

  • felecia

    what i see is the first lady trying to set an example, not in a preachy way, but just to say “hey, visit homeless shelters. plant a garden. volunteer at a school.” you don’t have to do it if you don’t want to, but if you did these things they might make you feel better. her husband is the President, not Michelle. i think that she is not trying to solve the government’s problems but show what an individual can do to make their world better. you think she is phony, fine. i like her approach.

  • felecia


  • mad_nVT

    So, Ms. Obama has never gardened before. Is that a bad thing?
    She wants to start gardening now. Isn’t that a good thing?
    The kids live in DC. They haven’t gardened either. But they are going to keep working on the garden for the next few months or whatever, and they are going to learn something. So is Ms. Obama. So are the tens of millions of Americans who don’t garden and who happen to be paying attention. One thing they will all learn is not to plant a garden in grass sod.
    Her clothes? If she wanted she could garden in those kinds of clothes. It’s okay to get clothes and boots dirty, and then wash them afterward. Course I don’t know that they ever did get dirty.
    She is sending out a good message, and doing it well.

  • cenoxo

    …in this picture of “Garden”… Michelle seems to be singing…
    And why not…

    …couldn’t we all use some nice background music about now?

  • Johanna

    It reminds of Marie Antoinette who had a little cottage on the grounds of Versailles and used to play at, or perhaps actually be, a shepherdess complete with bo peep staff. She also had a little garden along with the herd of sheep. It’s just as silly to have a vegetable garden on the white house grounds, and just as big a denial of the pomp and power of the office. Mrs. Obama is much better when she goes out and sees what real, actual Americans are doing. She should do more things like the visit to the naval base. She should be at schools, at artistic endeavors. She should not be setting up artificial tableaux on the House grounds.

  • Sirius the Star Dog

    @garb50: Agreed whole-heartedly. Any gardener worth their tilth sees this clearly as all light…no heat.
    Armed with nothing more than garden rakes and a small platoon of 5th graders…a modest 1000 ft² (50′ x 20′) vegetable garden (organic…no less) capable of feeding the 1st Fam AND providing fresh fruits AND vegetables for official functions…will miraculously rise from an erstwhile patch of tall fescue sod on the WH’s South Lawn.
    Expectations >> Likely outcome
    A lot of moving parts here and none of them mesh. An unfortunate metaphor for our attempt to ‘re-seed’ the economy. The event’s imagery would have been much improved with the active presence a small tractor pulling a plough (getting a tough job done by using the right tools; planting for the future).
    As much as I hope BO succeeds…this was a missed opportunity.

  • nightbird

    Hey Johanna she HAS been doing those things. Most recently on a trip to Fort Brag she covered all that you suggest.. visited the military, schools and the arts.
    Listen, so far Michelle Obama is proving to be the most dynamic, clear eyed, enthusiastic First Lady I’ve ever seen in my 60 years. I truly believe she is the overachiever this country needs and that she sees this job as a great opportunity to make a difference. My impression is that she is giving it her all. The least we can do is give her a little slack if not some respect.
    …and to Felicia: well said!

  • Johanna

    I never said she hadn’t been doing those things — I said she had. As for giving her slack, no way would I ever do that. She is not an empress, although she has all the perks of one. This is still a republic — sort of — and it is perfectly appropriate to judge them both at all times. It is she who owes the public, and not the other way around.

  • felecia

    Everything that she does for the next four years is going to be a photo op. I like her choices for the photo ops. I never thought about planting a garden but now I kinda do. I will view her and the President with a positive take because I do like them and maybe it is the Kool-Aid. Right now, I want as much positivity as possible. They will have my benefit of the doubt until they start a war without provocation. The economy is jacked up, but since I am not an economist, I will watch what happens and allow them to do the best they can under the circumstances. That’s just me.

  • gmoke

    This was a wasted opportunity. They could have included Alice Waters, a national garden group, or some of those who led public campaigns for a White House organic garden. They could have demonstrated how to start a garden not as a photo op but as a real live community project. Show and tell from those of experience is exactly what we need right now.
    Still, even with the inappropriate clothes, I like the picture. The angle is interesting. Michelle Obama looks almost as if she is singing. The children are active and lively. I like the two kids sharing a tool and the little girl by the red flag boundary marker so intent on her work. It is obviously spring with the few bare branches and the kids wearing coats and scarves.
    The garden itself is a very welcome shift. I have gardened for over thirty years and organized community gardens. They can be extremely powerful platforms for building community change. I have waited for this moment for all that time. Gardening is a positive demonstration of economic and political power.
    Personally, I’d like to see a weatherization barnraising at the White House as well, including the participation of “This Old House,” “Extreme Home Makeover,” and the Home and Garden channel.
    Next week, I plan to set out one of my recycled solar heated coldframes made from 2 liter plastic soda bottles filled with water. They let me plant some things a month or six weeks early:
    I wonder if the President’s garden would like to try one or two.

  • charlie

    You might want to read the bill for yourself before you spout this garbage. Here’s a nice summary
    The bill does not affect gardens or farmer’s markets. It mostly affects slaughterhouses, factories, and warehouses. It is supported by many progressives.

  • cenoxo

    Michelle Obama is the First Wife of the Man we’ve hired — for better or worse — to run the Executive Branch of the government. If he does well, they both get to stay, but only he gets paid (and then only after constant, continuous public criticism and praise). If he doesn’t do well, they’re both dismissed: such is the nature of the Presidency in the 21st Century.
    They’re not royalty, no matter how much we want them to be. Frankly, it’s a disservice and a distraction to place them upon pedestals which are all too easily toppled: witness the previous Administration. Sometimes the sheeple do rise up, as Shepherdess Marie — née Queen, wife, and mother — tragically discovered.
    Barack and Michelle are very intelligent, highly educated, and driven people. Without much political experience, they successfully campaigned for the Job for years on pretexts of hope and change, and spent tens of million$ of other people’s money getting there. They knew what the deal was: if you listen to the cheers, you’ve also got to take the jeers.
    When you’re representing over 300,000,000 people, there’s always respect for a job well done, but there ain’t no such thing as slack time.

  • TomT

    My God. I thought for a minute there I was on a rightwing site or the place has been taken over by rightwing trolls. Jeeez. Where did all that sniping about the First Lady come from? What a bunch of fishwives!
    I love the FLOTUS, I mean I really love her. She is warm and loving and brilliant and accomplished. Beautiful. I love the idea of a White House organic garden. She’s learning how to garden! Bringing in experienced school children, and with the help of her chefs and a carpenter/beekeeper. I admire gardeners, their passion and their love for the earth, their careful and tender affection for the growing. How can you not love that? I mean, to criticize because she had never gardened, but wants to now? What a silly complaint.
    I’m baffled by the critical focus on shoes. What’s with that? Who cares? With gossipy, sniping fishwives like Laura Ingrahm, David Brooks and MoDo and (some) people in this comment thread, I imagine that Michele isn’t free to wear garden-worthy shoes or jeans. That’s unfortunate.

  • sbgypsy

    You don’t need a plow, you don’t need a tractor. In fact, it’s far better if you don’t tear up the soil, if it’s not to compacted. You can cover the grass and rot it at the same time that the seedlings are growing, by covering all the grass with cardboard and planting through it. I’ve done it both ways, and if you plow, you have to do a whole lot more weeding to get rid of the grass – unless you sift the dirt and remove all the roots down to about four feet.
    That said, I think I read that the staff will be doing most of the gardening, but it was nice to bring the kids to the ground breaking.

  • Johanna

    “I love the FLOTUS, I mean I really love her..” What is this blog, a fanzine? We’re not going to remain a democracy for long with power worshipers like Tom T and others. The slobbering love and worship of political figures used to be what teenage girls felt for movie and rock stars. It is juvenile and deeply unhealthy as a feeling for adults toward what used to be quaintly called “public servants.” Sadly, the feeling behind that phrase is gone, replaced by the wish to adore, identify with, and endow with all power our American political idols.

  • Anne R. Abler

    “Shine Perishing Republic”
    Check it out. The man could still say (in 1927)with a straight face yet: “Corruption is not compulsory.” However that too has been suject to “Change!! Change, Change!!!” And it only took us eighty some years!!!
    Best line on this blog was “Let them eat cucumbers!!!”

  • Kitt

    What is this blog, a fanzine? We’re not going to remain a democracy for long with power worshipers like Tom T and others. The slobbering love and worship of political figures used to be what teenage girls felt for movie and rock stars.
    And who are you? What? You forgot your password to Russ Limbaugh’s site?
    I’m with TomT – where’d all the snipers come from? I agree with Tom’s assessment of Michelle Obama; I’m more a fan of Michelle than I am of Barack, but she wasn’t running. Yeah – neither her boots nor outfit were appropriate garden wear. It was a SYMBOLIC groundbreaking.
    We garden every year. In fact we’re farmers. Ya gotta start somewhere, and as far as Alice Waters …… FWIW, she did not invent the movement and I, for one, am glad it was just Michelle and those kids who were invited. Yeah it would’ve been great if the national organization of community gardens or some such had been invited, but this is how it went down.
    Dirt? Two springs ago we helped an assisted living facility start a garden on just under a one-acre plot. Their gardener attempted it with a rototiller at first and that was crazy difficult, so he called us to PLOW it up and even then, it was pretty darn tough. Last spring it was sooo much easier just rototilling what they needed to again. In fact, I was surprised the ground the First Lady was digging up was even penetrable.

  • manny

    “What’s so funny about peace, love and happiness?” ~Elvis Costello
    Spring Giddiness by Rumi
    Today, like every other day, we wake up empty
    and frightened. Don’t open the door to the study
    and begin reading. Take down a musical instrument.
    Let the beauty we love be what we do.
    There are hundreds of ways to kneel and kiss the ground.
    The breeze at dawn has secrets to tell you.
    Don’t go back to sleep.
    You must ask for what you really want.
    Don’t go back to sleep.
    People are going back and forth across the doorsill
    where the two worlds touch.
    The door is round and open.
    Don’t go back to sleep.
    I would love to kiss you.
    The price of kissing is your life.
    Now my loving is running toward my life shouting,
    What a bargain, let’s buy it.
    Daylight, full of small dancing particles
    and the one great turning, our souls
    are dancing with you, without feet, they dance.
    Can you see them when I whisper in your ear?
    All day and night, music,
    a quiet, bright
    reedsong. If it
    fades, we fade.

  • john devinsons

    Oh really Michelle your gardening looking be very gorgeous. I think your all the neighbours children’s helping to you for cleaning the garden. Used all the tools are by are really latest and by the using all them tool we do clean the garden justing the moments.
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