Friday, September 11, 2009

The White House Farmers Market is Official, Sort of: A Week of Media Mania

What does "By" mean? Is the First Lady involved with the new market, or not? Will veggies from the Kitchen Garden be sold? And why is the New York Times calling Sam Kass a "Czar"?
While your intrepid blogger has been immersed in Food Policy Week in DC, there's been a lot of media mania and a bit of controversy over the new White House Farmers Market.
Now, FreshFarm Markets is confirming that they'll be opening a new market next week, and it's being called "FreshFarm Market, By The White House." It's the ninth market run by the non-profit org in the DC area, and it's unclear if that tricky word "BY" means "near" the White House (the market will be one block from the Executive Mansion), or means "created by the White House."

Since Monday, the non-profit has gotten into a little bit of hot water with the East Wing, which has denied that First Lady Michelle Obama is behind the project, even though her Food Initiative Coordinator, Sam Kass, attended a community meeting to support the project. Today, in a Washington Post story on the market, a spokesperson for FreshFarm is newly announcing that they came up with the idea for the market waaaay back around the time of the Inauguration, though this is the first time this week that this has been said.

FreshFarm co-founder Ann Yonkers tells Wa Po that while they do have the support of Sam Kass, they have no idea if the First Lady is involved, but they're hoping she will show up at the market. Hmmm, didn't President Obama himself announce that the idea for the market was the First Lady's, to about 30,000 people, at a televised Town Hall on August 20?

Talk is cheap, unlike some organic food: FreshFarm's protocol issues

But the cat has been out of the bag regarding the relationship between the White House and FreshFarm since August, anyway, because FreshFarm has very chatty employees and partners.

Since shortly after President Obama mentioned the market, employees from FreshFarm and vendors who work with them have been excitedly spilling details about the market in comments on news sites, on food policy listserves, in person. They've been talking about meetings with Sam Kass and about the requests they've received for dates of availability and product lists. Your intrepid blogger has gotten a ton of e mails about the project--and hey, thanks!

But a note to people who are *ever* approached by the White House: Have a little discretion. Control yourself, until the White House makes the announcement, about whatever it is you're working on.

Otherwise, you'll wind up like ___ _____, who didn't get to ____ __ ____, because the group blabbed about it to media, and caused the East Wing a big headache--and forced the cancellation of the ____ ____ _____. Tell your pillow rather than your Facebook friends, and let the White House make the announcement first.

All the same, it's really swell that so many people are so excited that the White House is getting very involved in the local community, and making such a big effort to encourage local farmers and food makers. And FreshFarm has a big following for their other area markets, and they know what they're doing. Certainly the market will be excellent.

No veggies from the White House Kitchen Garden will be sold at the market
Thanks to the media mania over lead contamination in the garden, which the White House (and your intrepid blogger) has repeatedly debunked, it's now impossible to sell vegetables from the Kitchen Garden at the market...even if the White House wanted to; there will always be someone shouting contamination!, because the lead myth continues to live on the internet, even today.

Still, the idea of selling Kitchen Garden veggies is percolating around the internet, and the New York Times has led the charge in spreading the idea--because it's a real attention getter. In one of the NYT stories, Fresh From The White House Garden? is actually the headline, but then the last line of the piece notes that there is no confirmation. ObFo is guessing, however, that NYT is fully aware that there will be no produce from the WH Kitchen garden sold at the market.

Another questionable move by the
NYT: Just two days after green jobs adviser Van Jones resigned, and the word "czar" had moved into the popular culture as the most controversial word in America--and Glenn Beck was putting out a hit list for White House czars--the NYT decided to call Sam Kass a "culinary czar" in the same story about selling WH vegetables. Rilly? Czar? Maybe the NYT is trying to create more faux controversy about the White House kitchen and garden....

How it all got public--and who was that DOT mole, anyway?
A question that also needs to be asked: Who was the bureaucratic mole from DC's Department of Transportation who spilled the details about street closures for the market to DC's radio WTOP? The station is the starting point for the week of media mania, because it first "broke" the story of the "confirmation" of the White House Farmers Market on Monday, when it ran this piece on air and on the net about area residents being "upset" about street closures. This was rapidly picked up by local blog DCist, and then it turned into a case of toxic telephone in the blogosphere. So who was the mole? And why was the mole outing what should have been a quiet filing for permits? Does someone at DOT hate fresh local food? Or the Obamas?

The story has now gone international, as all things White House food and garden tend to: It's been on the BBC and in UK's The Guardian, among other places. The White House Farmers Market (because that's what everyone is going to call it for the rest of time, no matter what its official name is) will be open on Thursdays, September 17 through Oct. 29. Hours are 3 to 7 PM, and the market is on the 800 block of Vermont Avenue, between H and I Streets, NW. Next week's opening date was chosen to coincide with Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack's weeklong festival, Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food.

*The excellent DC blog Capital Spice has
the roll call of vendors who will be selling at the market. *Map from the Washington Post