Michelle Obama has brought beekeeping to the White House, and the New York Times has a lovely three minute video story about this activity that connects the president’s home with Washington DC’s seasonal trees and flowers, and school children. The honey is eaten at the White House and offered as a gift to world leaders.
With the First Family of the United States involved, ultra-local honey production is certain to influence residential and corporate beekeeping around the world. It is the first time that honey has been produced at the White House. This symbolic and practical activity is a great beacon for urban agriculture and ecology.
A related article talks about how the Obamas’ personal chef is involved with food policy making.
Food Democracy Now is organizing an online petition to stop Obama and Congress from nominating and approving industrial agriculture leaders to key government food and agriculture positions. The petition seems organized for United States residents. Nonetheless, appointing executive level GMO and pesticide advocates to senior US government positions will certainly have a global effect on food and the environment.
On Friday the Olympics committee will announce in Denmark which world city will host the 2016 summer games. It is exciting that Tokyo used sustainable urbanism as a core feature of its bid: re-using existing facilities, keeping the games within a small urban radius, and showcasing their best-in-the-world city transit system.
Still, it will be hard to compete with Rio de Janeiro, which would be the first South American host, and with Chicago, which has Obama and Oprah promoting its bid. It is interesting that despite the abundant official displays around Tokyo touting the bid, I have not heard much popular enthusiasm.
After starting this post, I read a Japan Inc column by successful expat in Tokyo Terrie Lloyd, who writes that low public support for the Tokyo bid is a big negative factor in the evaluation. Apparently a poll in February showed only 25% of residents “strongly favor” the bid. Given the exclusive focus on promoting Tokyo’s eco-city attributes and financial resources in their bid, perhaps Governor Ishihara and his committee did not even realize that the International Olympic Committee considers popular enthusiasm an important selection criteria.
In my research on Tokyo green space and sustainable urbanism, I often see the disconnect between the most well intentioned leaders and public participation. Master plans and visions are one thing, but creating change requires the participation of a very capable and resourceful population.
Certainly Japan is not unique in this shortcoming, but it seems that so much potential is wasted by ignoring the potential of popular participation. What do you think?
This is an image of a residential vegetable garden during the war in Tokyo from March 1944, published by Life Magazine. It comes from an amazing urban agriculture website called City Farmer, out of Vancouver, Canada.
United States residents are aware of our country’s World War II “victory gardens,” recently revived by the Obama White House. Yet somehow seeing a similar war-time image in Tokyo, shortly before the city was decimated by fire bombs, is surprising.
In times of war and scarcity, urban residents naturally turned to growing food in their gardens. Are today’s combination of unemployment and climate change enough to generate an equally widespread movement in global cities today? What skills have urban residents lost? What governmental and non-governmental resources could make urban agriculture a significant source of food?
Some images of the Obama’s White House garden after the jump.
A US teacher’s blog reminded me of the importance of gardens in Japanese public schools. Loco teaches in a Yokohama junior high school, and remarked at how different Japanese and New York school facilities are.
At his school, there are two ponds, turtles, fish, and carefully pruned trees. The gardens are largely maintained by the students and staff. In contrast US students generally have no responsibilities for cleaning their classrooms or maintaining the grounds.
Another feature of Japanese school gardens is the frequent presence of at least one large cherry tree. These trees’ blossoms mark the ending and beginning of the school year in March and April.
In the United States, there is now an Edible Schoolyard movement to bring vegetable gardens to schools as a way to educate kids about food and the environment. The Berkeley California middle school garden was founded in 1995 by noted cook and food activist Alice Waters, who is now advising the Obamas about the organic White House vegetable garden. It would be interesting to bring this school vegetable garden concept to Japan.