Partially in response to the opening lines of my piece in Townhall magazine related to the Obama's White House garden, one of my colleagues (Francis Epplin) said he didn't understand my objection to gardens, and he pointed out that they are bi-partisan (apparently our Republican-led Dept of Ag in Oklahoma has a garden too).
My response was that I didn't mean to come across as "anti garden." Up until a couple years ago, my 91 year old grandmother grew tomatoes, okra, and other goodies in her backyard. That said, I do find it strange when public officials (whether Obama or Governor Fallin) grow "symbolic" gardens. In these cases, I think it is fair to ask what is being symbolized and ask whether the arguments used to promote gardens hold up to the scientific evidence. Of course not all gardens are symbols of something bigger, and it seems perfectly reasonable for someone to say they grow a garden because "they like to." There are certainly worse things one can do with their time.
In any event, Epplin advanced an interesting hypothesis, which he consented to me sharing here:
My hypothesis would be that families that grow, or try to grow gardens, would have a better understanding of the weed and pest challenges encountered by farmers. I would also hypothesize that they would be more sympathetic toward herbicides and pesticides.
This is a testable hypothesis and would make a great research project. A part of me thinks Francis is right. However, tending a garden is also different than managing a 1000 acre farm, and I'm not sure it translates. Indeed, I think it is possible that just the opposite opinion will be formed.
This reminds me a bit of the conversation that came up in the Food Dialogues Event I participated in a couple months ago. The former deputy secretary of agriculture, Kathleen Merrigan, talked about farmers selling at farmer's markets as being agricultural ambassadors and representing farmers more generally. The implication was that such farmers would help the average consumer better understand production agriculture. However, someone in the audience made a good point when he argued that the farmer at the farmers market was not the same kind of farmer he was. The implication is that the guy at the farmers market was just as apt to say something bad about his farm than be an ambassador.
Will gardens or farmers markets make people more or less accepting of modern production agriculture?
I don't know.