Michelle Obama Brings Her Support of Sustainable Food from Garden to Market

Last week, Michelle Obama once again voiced her support for local sustainable food by introducing the opening of the White House farmers’ market. For the duration of last Thursday, H Street, Vermont Ave and part of I street were completely shutdown to make way for the unveiling of FreshFarm Markets’ new addition to Washington D.C.’s growing market scene. As to be expected, Michelle was followed by an entourage of security, press and local citizens. Also to be expected was the resulting press that both praised and criticized Michelle Obama’s involvement in the local food movement.

The Washington Post reported two articles on the new farmers’ market: one interviewing local residents and asking them why farmers’ markets are important to their community, and the second a diatribe on how unsustainable Michelle Obama’s contribution is to the sustainable food movement. While the first article is a wonderful promotion of how farmers’ markets create and support the local community, the second article unearths many of the questions that linger in the minds of those who begrudge the hype surrounding the local, sustainable food movement. The gist of any rational argument made (necessarily) questions the following: what is the place of publicity in the sustainable food movement? How does celebrity support and culinary/agricultural entertainment catered towards the wealthy (intentionally or not) contribute to making healthy food affordable to the masses?

While Dana Milbank’s trifling OpEd lightly touches upon these critical and poignant questions, his beef is directed towards First Lady Obama’s elitist approach to local food (as is evident by her support of “overpriced baby arugula”) and he completely ignores the root of the problem: small, organic farmers can’t afford to reduce their prices if they are to compete with larger, government subsidized farms (that mainly produce soy, corn and potatoes, of which the majority is not even grown for human consumption).

A current columnist for the Post and a former contributor to The Wall Street Journal and The New Republic, Milbank is obviously an educated man. One that would surely understand the need for education and promotion to drive a healthy, sustainable economy, and a man that would no doubt understand the basic economics of a competitive market with two models: one of which is heavily subsidized, the other of which is provided little funding. It is unfortunate that his report of last Thursday suggests the contrary:

“The first lady said the market would particularly appeal to federal employees in nearby buildings to 'pick up some good stuff for dinner.' Yet even they might think twice about spending $3 for a pint of potatoes when potatoes are on sale for 40 cents a pound at Giant. They could get nearly five dozen eggs at Giant for the $5 Obama spent for her dozen.”

I’d encourage Milbank to talk a walk past the Hill and visit some of the farms and producers that surround Washington, D.C.