Red, White and Greener: This Fourth, Declare Your Food Independence

Michelle Obama caught some flack during the run-up to last year's elections when she said she was proud of America "for the first time in [her] adult life." But many of us understood -- at the time, we'd spent years building an international reputation for political apathy, but the Obama groundswell was hinting at what would be a record voting turnout. And in spite of a deeply divided country and what was then a flagging economy, people were showing signs of hope we hadn't seen in decades.

The First Lady caught some heat again a few months ago when she planted an organic garden on the White House Lawn, this time from the Crop Life Association, who thought going organic set a bad example . But many of us were inspired by her actions. Thousands of us planted gardens of our own for the first time. Harkening back to the days of Victory Gardens (but not calling it that), it seems that the first lady's garden has given legs to a movement of garden-fresh food, and those who've followed in her footsteps are making an investment in a delicious future.

One of the people who rallied for that garden was IATP Food and Society fellow Roger Doiron of Kitchen Gardeners International, whose Eat the View campaign started at, where it quickly rose to the top of the list (and subsequently won). Eventually, the campaign culminated in its own website,

Now, Roger is at it again, this time with Food Independence Day, a campaign encouraging citizens throughout the US to make local food part of their Fourth of July festivities. Says Doiron of the campaign:

With July 4th and other Independence Day celebrations just around the corner, people will have other options to ponder as they plan their holiday meals. For too many in the US, the "choices" will be Bud or Miller or an industrially-produced hotdog or an industrially-produced hamburger. I don't know about you, but I think our national holiday deserves better than barbecued mystery-meat and water-flavored beer.

I couldn't agree more. The 4th is one of my favorite holidays, and as I write this post from Livingston, Montana, having spent the last two weeks crossing the country en route to my own family's cookout in Long Beach, Washington, (I'm currently moving back to my native Washington from the east coast), I would also say that we have a lot more local food choices than most people might think.

In the two weeks I've spent on the road, I've tapped into local food resource Eat Well Everywhere (disclosure: I consult for Eat Well), which led me to Madison, Wisconsin's Willy Street Co-op and to Milwaukee's Growing Power, whose greenhouses produced the first fresh tomatoes I've tasted this year. In Minneapolis, I grabbed snacks at the Linden Hills Co-op. Here in Montana - not exactly a culinary destination - I've been practically living on locally-raised buffalo. In spite of some major problems with this country's food systems, we have a lot to be proud of on the local level.

Roger has also challenged the first families of all 50 states to take part in Food Independence Day by publishing their local food menus. So far, nine governors offices have responded to the FID challenge, including Maine, Idaho, Maryland, Minnesota, Texas, North and South Dakotas and Montana. (Nebraska also responded, but had no menu to report as they will be working the parade circuit all day.) See the red flags on the map at for the juicy details of these gubernatorial local food feasts. While the remaining 41 have only a few days left to join in, over 5,000 people have signed the petition asking them to do so.

It might be a little late for the remaining 41 first families to get with Roger's program, but it's worth shooting them a note anyway, because although this particular campaign might focus on the red, white and blue, its ideals are evergreen. According to Roger:

And just as the White House garden campaign was not just about one garden, the Food Independence Day campaign is not just about one day. It's about inspiring and teaching people and communities to become more food secure and independent every day.

Local food is not only a tasty alternative to its over-processed, over-traveled industrially-produced counterparts, but it's also patriotic to support local farmers. As this recent Washington Post article about the campaign points out, the bulk of garlic sold in the US is now produced in China. Buying locally grown garlic would encourage farmers here to grow more of it, eventually allowing us to wean ourselves off of the foreign stuff. Perhaps more importantly, buying local supports our local economies and helps to keep American farmers, who've dropped by more than half since the 1930s, in business.

And it doesn't need to be a hardship or an all-or-nothing endeavor. By sourcing even a few key ingredients locally, you cut back on your "food miles" and therefore your carbon foodprint, and just by questioning where your food comes from, what grows in your region and what's in season, you are reminded of the worth of American soil and the hands that tend to it. Roger says it better:

Moving towards food independence doesn't mean having to do everything and grow everything on our own. It's about learning what we, our soils, climate, and local farmers can produce, effortlessly or with some coaxing, and committing to eat more of these things when nature offers them up to us. In doing so, we discover that we have more choices and freedom than we realized.

What could be more all-American?

Originally published on The Green Fork.