Monday, July 27, 2009

The First Lady's Foodprint: Sarah Brown Plants a Vegetable Garden at 10 Downing Street

Sarah Brown takes a page from First Lady Michelle Obama's gardening book...and gets newly active with social media technology, too
The Queen of England recently installed a vegetable garden at Buckingham Palace, for the first time in the history of the monarchy, apparently inspired by First Lady Michelle Obama's White House Kitchen Garden. And now Sarah Brown, wife of British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, has planted an edible garden at 10 Downing Street, too, which the UK media is also crediting to Mrs. Obama's influence. (Above: Mrs. Obama and Mrs. Brown, touring the earthquake-devastated town of L'Aquila, Italy, on July 9)

UK Telegraph gardening writer Matthew Appleby is slightly suspicious that the new garden might be a PR stunt, but he's happy about it all the same. Mr. Appleby writes:

Visited 10 Downing Street's garden this week...Met PM Gordon Brown's wife Sarah Brown, who Michelle Obama has persuaded to start a veg patch....At the White House photocall Mrs Obama got her hands dirty for the cameras, while Mrs Brown didn't, which could be a PR own-goal...Apparently Mrs Brown's children like gardening, she....has asked for a bee and butterfly-friendly border full of lavender and nepeta – and she encourages growing in small urban spaces. Lots of good messages...

Mr. Appleby also notes that PM Brown doesn't like gardening, and regards it as "frivolous," which could be one of the reasons Mr. Brown is plummeting in popularity polls; the UK has a big grow-your-own movement. It seems unlikely that the veg garden project at 10 Downing Street is PR; Mrs. Brown is newly emerging as something of a foodie activist, as an accompaniment to the other policy issues she's promoting, particularly maternal health. Mrs. Brown and Mrs. Obama became fast friends starting at the G20 Summit in April (at which food activist chef Jamie Oliver cooked a formal dinner at 10 Downing Street), and this was strengthened when Mrs. Obama took Malia and Sasha to London in June, and she visited Mrs. Brown at 10 Downing Street (in photo above, in the garden). And they were together at the G8 two weeks ago, although Mrs. Obama had a different schedule than the rest of the G8 spouses; but she and Mrs. Brown did lunch together, and toured a museum together (in photo), and then toured L'Aquila together. Amazingly, Mrs. Brown kept a blog diary of the G8, and she's also very active on Twitter (@SarahBrown10). She also maintains her own Twitpic photostream as @SarahBrown10 that's separate from the official 10 Downing Street photostream, as well as her own Flickr photostream. The pic at top of the post is from these streams, as are the ones below. And Mrs. Brown doesn't keep her food activism quiet, either. Here's a Tweet sent in the middle of the G8, on July 10:

Am hoping that no veal served at lunch again today - have declined it twice this trip as just feel very strongly about it 9:19 AM Jul 10th from web

At the moment, it's difficult to imagine Mrs. Obama Tweeting or blogging about anything, let alone food and gardening issues, despite her pathbreaking work in both; even the official White House website has no dedicated place on it that covers food issues. There aren't even bios of the current White House chefs on the website; it's interesting to note that the Bush White House website had chef bios, among many other food-related items, even though First Lady Laura Bush had no food agenda. But new media usage has been swell for Mrs. Brown, who has more than 440,000 followers on Twitter, and uses it not only to personalize her role as the wife of the Prime Minister, but also to promote the maternal health charity she sponsors, Million Mums, which is dedicated to ending pregnancy and birth-related deaths around the globe...and which necessarily has a big platform about food and nutrition, too. Another telling Tweet:

Last day of G8 summit and I am invited by World Food Programme to contribute at event today on maternal health and the link to food security 9:15 AM Jul 10th from web

Mrs. Obama has made the connection between health care and food initiatives, too, but she definitely has not expressed any public opinions on international food security and maternal health, although she did visit a mother/child health clinic in Ghana with the President, following their time in Italy, and has made visits to other, similar maternal support organizations (the Ghana hospital visit, in photo). This is interesting, because generally Mrs. Obama's activities "shine a light" on the President's policy initiatives; for instance, at Friday's National Design Awards luncheon, Mrs. Obama discussed the critical connection between achievement in math and science and achievement in design, while the President was elsewhere in DC at the same moment, announcing the 'Race To The Top'--Recovery funding to reform math and science education. At the G8, President Obama was the driving force behind the L'Aquila Food Security Initiative--he's credited with boosting the dedicated funding by G8 member nations from $12 million to $20 million thanks to a passionate, personal speech at one of the final G8 sessions. Mrs. Obama's policy speeches tend to twin with the President's--her activities highlight his policy initiatives--though not in this instance.

Mrs. Brown, on the other hand, not only highlights PM Brown's initiatives, but does her own thing. Here's a pic of part of her garden from her Twitpic account, though sadly there's no veggies in evidence:

It's been remarkable to watch Mrs. Obama's influence and the global foodprint of the White House Kitchen Garden grow. What began as a simple object lesson in teaching children about nutrition and healthy eating has reverberated widely across cultures and countries. During the Obama's recent trip to Russia, the citizenry were primarily interested in Mrs. Obama as a gardener, rather than as a fashion icon, a subject the European press covered extensively. Does Mrs. Obama even need social media to get her food policy message out? That's an interesting question, which Ob Fo will cover in future....

One more excellent pic from Mrs. Brown's Twitpic account, which didn't make it into US media: A picture of President Obama as a baby, with his mum Ann Dunham, projected onto the wall of the Coliseum during a Million Mums event during the G8:

Related: Coverage of Mrs. Obama and Mrs. Brown, newly meeting at the G20 is here.

*Mrs. Brown and Mrs. Obama in Italy photo, and photo at 10 Downing street via AP; Ghana hospital photo via Reuters; all other photos from Sarah Brown.