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Vilsack concedes: Michelle Obama's garden wins

Article from The Des Moines Register

Washington, D.C. — There should be no doubt that Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack is from Iowa. He’s comparing his crops to his neighbor’s.

Vilsack has found his crops wanting. Both Vilsack and First Lady Michelle Obama have established gardens this year, Vilsack at USDA and Mrs. Obama at the White House.

So far, Mrs. Obama has had the bigger harvest, as Vilsack told members of the Greater Des Moines Partnership who were winding up their annual Washington lobbying trip today.

“We now have a competition between the two gardens. I guarantee you we will lose,” Vilsack said. “I’m told they’ve already harvested 90 pounds of lettuce. I say, ‘OK, whatever.’”

But the former Iowa governor figures that explains why President Barack Obama has been slipping out of the White House to local burger joints.

“I was kidding the White House chef that the reason he was going there was because he was eating 90 pounds of lettuce,” Vilsack said. In actual fact, both gardens were intended for the same purposes: to encourage Americans to grow their own food and to consume more fruits and vegetables, especially locally grown produce.

The USDA’s organic garden, which was installed at a corner of the department’s headquarters on the National Mall, also is intended to promote organic agriculture.

Children are a target audience. Vilsack said the gardens will help educate them on how their food is produced. Mrs. Obama invites local school groups to help maintain the White House garden.

“We want people, and particularly young people, to understand the connection between the land and their food,” Vilsack said.

Vilsack stumped the crowd with a question as what is the largest-volume commodity that his department provides to schools. It’s not potatoes or chicken nuggets. It’s mozzarella cheese.

Kids need a more balanced diet, he said.

“Part of our challenge is to figure how to make the kids’ choice be the salad rather than the pizza slice.”

Vilsack did not emphasize farm issues in his speech to the group. However, two representatives of the Iowa Corn Growers Association, chief executive Craig Floss and Don Elsbernd, a grower from Postville, managed to talk to him for a couple of minutes about climate legislation pending before the Congress.

On Thursday, Vilsack spent 2.5 hours testifying before members of the House Agriculture Committee who worry that caps on greenhouse gas emissions will increase farm production costs significantly. Farm groups want Vilsack to insist on controlling the allocation of carbon credits that could offset some of the farmers’ costs. Under the House climate bill, the Environmental Protection Agency would manage the credits.

“He’s well aware” of the issue, Elsbernd said.


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