George Ball is chairman and chief executive of the W. Atlee Burpee & Co. and a past president of the American Horticultural Society.
In 1933, Franklin Delano Roosevelt famously used his first 100 days as president to attack the demons of the Great Depression. All new presidents since have had a 100-day gantlet to confront the ills that face them.
Having run more than five 100-day gantlets since announcing his candidacy in June 2015, Donald Trump has had practice facing demons. On Jan. 20, a newly inaugurated President Trump will begin to battle in earnest with the D.C. gladiator corps, now sharpening their swords and deep-stretching for Day One.
That’s the bad news. The good news is our 45th president has a garden to tend. It has been left to him, and to the entire nation, by first lady Michelle Obama in the form of the White House Kitchen Garden, her greatest achievement while living in the People’s House.
As the new president, Trump would do well to cultivate not only the more-than-2,000-square-foot garden but also a taste for all things vegetable. PEOTUS is moving into a climate that has a sweet mildness unique in the country. In nearby Charlottesville, even at a higher elevation, Thomas Jefferson grew a year-round bounty of herbs, fruits and vegetables. Since then, U.S. presidents from James Monroe to John F. Kennedy conjured forth gardens, arboretums, fountains and even greenhouses — the latter of which have disappeared from the White House grounds.
On his first day in office, Trump can sow seeds of peas, kale, lettuce, mustard greens, kohlrabi, cauliflower, cabbage, broccoli and Brussels sprouts, as well as beets, carrots, chard, radishes and spinach. And he can plant bulbs for green onions and “seed potatoes.” He could be eating all of them within 75 days. Indeed, the D.C. climate is so mild that the White House Kitchen Garden can yield three end-to-end crops of arugula in the first 100 days; if he sows every two weeks, he’ll have to open a farm stand on Pennsylvania Avenue.
In full disclosure, the Burpee Foundation is the sole donor of funds to maintain the White House Kitchen Garden for the next 17 years, serving the palates of three to five new presidents.
Like all youths in the 1960s, I grew up attracted to fast food, even though its grease took some getting used to. When one is mobile, fast food is handy. At age 70, Trump can be as mobile as he likes, but he courts illness by eating regularly at KFC and from the many kitchens at his buildings.
Changing to a plant-based diet brings you into the sunlight. With a large vegetable garden steps from your bedroom window, you can easily improve your health. It takes about three weeks on average for palates to adjust from taco bowls and the like to fresh vegetables. Once you have tasted just-harvested and steamed broccoli with drawn butter and ground pepper, you never go back to junk food. After a month, you can barely even chew fried chicken or any other high-fat, high-sodium fast food.
For instance, Trump, and many others, may not know this, but the turnip is a fantastically delicious and nutritious vegetable. Peeled and eaten with a bit of salt, few things can compete. I rank kohlrabi second for flavor, high nutrition and low calories. Eat it like an apple to enjoy its delightful taste. Third place goes to the heavenly watermelon radish, so called because of its rose-pink flesh. It is one of God’s great gifts to the world, as is the rest of the Brassica, or cabbage, family. Like the others, sown in late January, the petite globe-shaped variation of the Japanese daikon will be ready in mid-March. Quartered, drizzled with olive oil, dashed with salt and pepper, wrapped in aluminum foil and baked for an hour or so, it is a uniquely savory dish.
With his newly dug fingerling potatoes and a bit of melted butter, and his ever-present surplus arugula steamed and braised with a touch of garlic, our born-again healthy chief executive will be ready to conquer his 101st day and many thereafter.