Outstanding in his Field
A Scarborough man who turned his lawn into a vegetable garden thinks he can persuade Barack Obama to do the same at 1600 Pennsyl
- By: Michaela Cavallaro
Not just anyone would try to auction the White House lawn on eBay. But Roger Doiron was willing to give it a try. Early last year, the Scarborough resident put one-square-foot parcels of the White House’s grounds up for sale as part of Eat the View, his effort to persuade the next president to convert a portion of the lawn into an organic vegetable garden. Quirky? Yes. Attention-getting? Absolutely.
Regardless of whether hordes of zucchini and towering tomato plants will sprout up outside the Oval Office, Doiron is well on his way to his ultimate goal: encouraging Americans to plant and tend their own vegetable gardens. As founder of Kitchen Gardeners International, a five-year-old nonprofit organization Doiron runs out of his home, the forty-two-year-old father of three promotes the virtues of growing your own food.
That much of his actual work takes place in front of a computer — using Facebook to solicit donations, creating and distributing short videos, posting blog entries about the best ways to grow onions — is a delicious irony. “I’m promoting something as old as the hills: scratching in the dirt and planting a few seeds,” says Doiron. “But I’m trying to do it in innovative, creative ways to get the word out quickly to lots of people.”
Doiron’s particular combination of skills sets him apart in the burgeoning sustainable agriculture movement, according to Susan Roberts, former director of the Food & Society Policy Fellows Program. (Doiron is a 2008-2009 fellow.) “Roger is just a whiz at technology,” says Roberts. “He knows how to use the Internet and social networking to get people excited about the importance of gardening — and he knows how to engage policymakers, too.”
Doiron’s awakening about food and the joys of local, seasonal eating occurred in Europe. He lived in France as an exchange student in high school and college, then returned to Europe in 1991. For six years he worked on policy issues in the Brussels office of Friends of the Earth, the world’s largest grassroots environmental group.
At the time, the Slow Food movement, dedicated to preserving the culture and traditions of food, was gaining steam in Europe. As Doiron describes it, a largely elite group of lawyers, EU civil servants, and others enjoyed sumptuous meals that served artisanal cheeses and heritage pork. Doiron, meanwhile, spent his weekends visiting the Belgian countryside with Jacqueline, the woman he’d later marry, to eat from the gardens of family and friends. “I learned that you can eat incredibly well from foods that you grow and preserve yourself,” he says. “So when we moved to Maine, I wanted to figure out a way to bring that knowledge to other people.”
For a few years, Doiron worked for existing groups, including the Eat Local Foods Coalition and the Northeast Sustainable Agriculture Working Group. In 2003, however, he went out on his own and founded Kitchen Gardeners International. As Doiron transformed the group from a small group of home gardeners to an international organization ten thousand members strong, he also created and promoted International Kitchen Garden Day, a decentralized celebration of local food, gardening, and home cooking; developed vegetable gardens at Scarborough schools; and wrote freelance stories on food, agriculture, and gardening. “We’re facing a big challenge in the United States: we are in many cases several generations removed from the actual growing of food,” Doiron says. “So I’m trying to show people that [growing your own food] can be fun, delicious — and even improve your family life.”
So far, individuals ranging from uber-foodie Michael Pollan (author of The Omnivore’s Dilemma) to Slow Food founder Carlo Petrini and Maine organic farmer Eliot Coleman have endorsed Doiron’s Eat the View campaign. His videos promoting the cause have won online contests. Doiron hopes that the new president, a known arugula aficionado, will look to the Pine Tree State for his local-eating model. “Maine is ahead of the pack on these issues — the Baldaccis are eating out of a backyard garden at the Blaine House,” says Doiron. “So don’t tell me the first family can’t follow suit!”
- By: Michaela Cavallaro