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article imageKitchen Gardens International a gardener's social network Special

By Bob Ewing     Apr 20, 2010 in Internet
Roger Doiron is the founding director of the nonprofit Kitchen Gardeners International and was active in the White House kitchen garden campaign.
Fast Company magazine called Roger one of the ten most inspiring people in sustainable food for his campaign for a White House kitchen garden. spoke to Doiron about the role of kitchen gardeners and why people should grow their own food.
BE: What was your and KGI's role in the digging of the White House kitchen garden?
RD: Only First Lady Michelle Obama and her staff know that for sure, but I'd like to think we played the same role that nitrogen plays in a compost pile, that of an activator. The idea of a kitchen garden at the White House wasn't a new one (President John Adams "invented" it in 1800), but an old one that we felt needed to made new again. At the start of 2008, we saw an opportunity to do this through the presidential campaign that was starting to attract a lot of attention.
We began a campaign of our own called "Eat the View" that called on the next president, whoever who he or she might be, to replant a food garden the White House. What started as a small seed quickly grew into a vibrant and organic movement of people who were using social networking tools such as YouTube and Facebook to bring more people into the campaign and attract more public attention.
By February 2009, our campaign had been featured in the New York Times, Washington Post and Wall Street Journal and had attracted over 100,00 signatures on a White House kitchen garden petition. It was also at that time that I established direct contact with senior staffers in Michelle Obama's office to advocate for the idea.
Although I received a lot of recognition for my work once the garden was dug, I like to think that I played the role of a roadie rather than a rock star by making sure that the mics and amps were cranked up so that the voices of other people could be heard. And nothing would have happened had the First Lady not heard those voices and made the bold the decision to start digging. She is leading by personal example which I think is the most inspirational form of leadership.
BE:. What is a kitchen gardener?
RD: The term "kitchen garden" means different things to different people. For many people in wealthy countries, it's a way of producing the freshest, most delicious and environmentally-friendly food possible. For others, however, it's about survival, a way of putting food on the table. I like the term more than others like "food garden" or "vegetable garden" because the word "kitchen" conjures up pleasant images about family, cuisine, and culture. A kitchen garden is ultimately a mean of producing good food, food that is not only good for the eater, but for the planet.
BE: Why is it important for people to grow at least some of their own food?
RD: Let me count the ways! No, seriously, there are so many reasons that someone might want to get started down the path to growing food and, once again, they differ a bit from one person to the next. The environmental case for local foods and more self-reliant households and communities gets stronger every day.
We live on a planet with limited resources and need to find ways of living happily within our ecological means. Similarly, we need to live within our financial means and we're seeing a resurgence of interest in gardening among those who are looking to save money on their grocery bills. Last year, my wife and I carried out a little experiment about this and found that we were able to save over $2000 by growing some of our fruits, vegetables and herbs.
There are also strong health arguments that could be made for kitchen gardens. Some history buffs might know that the last garden revival, the Victory Garden movement of the WWI-WWII period, got a big push from the US government because the military was concerned that its soldiers were not physically fit for battle and that we needed to up the production and consumption of vegetables to correct that.
Fast forwarding to the present, the health issue now isn't so much that our citizens are undernourished as overfed and malnourished and that we could be eating fresher foods than we are and getting some healthy exercise in the process.
Finally, I think there's a philosophical and some might even say spiritual reasons for growing some of our food. A writer friend of mine named Fred Bahnson has really turned me onto this. Ultimately, to grow food is part of what it means to be human.
BE: What lead you to create Kitchen Gardeners International?
RD: All vital signs - health, economic, and ecological - point to the need for dramatic changes in the way we produce and eat food. The UN estimates that food production will need to increase by 70% in order to feed a projected global population of 9 billion people in 2050. To add to the challenge, we will need to do this using a depleted resource base while shrinking our carbon footprint. Our current global and industrialized food system runs on oil, requiring 10 calories of fossil fuel energy to generate one calorie of food energy, a losing equation. Our current highly-industrialized food system also accounts for roughly 1/3 of the greenhouse gas emissions. No matter how you look at it, we’re going to need to find ways of producing more and healthier food closer to where people live in urban and suburban areas.
I founded KGI in late 2003 after living abroad for ten years. I had been working as director of the European coordination office of Friends of the Earth, the world’s largest grassroots environmental NGO. During those years of working and traveling abroad, I began connecting the dots in my own head between gardens, health, and global sustainable development. I returned to the US and began looking for an organization I could join that was making the same connections that I was. Since it didn’t exist, I started my own. What started with one gardener in one country has since grown into a network of over 20,000 people from 100 countries.
BE: What projects is KGI presently involved in?
RD: Our focus is on "gardeners helping gardeners" both near and far. We educate thousands of people each month on the "hows" and "whys" of home gardening through our busy website which is increasingly being built by our members.
Our programs include a partnership program with small-scale gardening efforts to help build their capacity through funding, networking, and technical assistance. Via this program, we have been able help plant new gardens and carry out garden education projects in India, Guyana, Argentina, Nepal, El Salvador, and Kenya. We also coordinate World Kitchen Garden Day an annual, decentralized holiday which we launched as our healthy answer to “Snack Food Month.” Rather than promote fluorescent orange cheese doodles like the International Snack Food Association, our day promotes solidarity among the world’s gardeners and gives them a pretext for inviting friends, family and neighbors into their gardens to learn about them firsthand.
We are also starting to plant the first seeds of a local chapter network (which we call "pods") whereby gardeners from the same area, both experienced and aspiring, can find and connect with each other via our website and meet up to create real change on the ground.
BE: What would you say to someone who has created their first kitchen garden?
RD: Bravo. Enjoy it and, as you grow with your garden, look for ways of sharing the healthy knowledge and food that come out of it with others.
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