When you walk up to Roger Doiron’s home, you get just a hint that a Garden Crusader lives inside. There is a tidy kitchen garden right in his front yard. Other than that, it appears to be a typical family home in Scarborough, ME.
Yet inside, Roger has been leading an international effort to expand kitchen gardening. His efforts have resulted in the creation of school gardens in his hometown, to kitchen gardens in India and even a kitchen garden at the White House.
He's accomplished all this through persistence, a knack for promotion and a practical use of 21st century technology. He is the founder of a non-profit called Kitchen Gardeners International, which is, in Roger’s words: “The garden mouse that roared.”
For his work teaching people how to garden and about the importance of kitchen gardening, Roger has been honored with the 2009 Garden Crusader Award for Education from Gardener’s Supply Company.
Roger grew up in Scarborough, and he also spent a decade in Europe, where he worked in environmental policy for Friends of the Earth. He met his wife there and was introduced to the joys of European-style kitchen gardening.
“During the week, I was Roger, the environmental crusader in the city,” he said, “but I spent the weekends in the Belgian countryside with my wife and in-laws. We would help my mother-in-law in the garden and then go inside and make the most wonderful food.”
While he was deepening his own relationship to gardening and food, his policy work turned to food. Mad cow disease and the fight against GMOs (genetically modified organisms) was front and center in Europe.
“The relationship between food and the environment and general well-being was really acknowledged,” he said. “And food is such a natural path to other environmental topics. Everyone eats three times a day, so everyone is interested in food.”
When he and his wife moved their family to Maine eight years ago, Roger felt he could play a role in bringing European kitchen gardening back to the U.S.
“It took some time for me to sort out my ideas out and figure out where I could make a difference,” he said. In 2002, Roger founded KGI and started with a simple website. Since then, KGI has grown into a network of 15,000 kitchen gardeners from around the world.
“We provide a social network for gardeners, a way for people to communicate with each other and learn from each other,” he said. As KGI’s only employee, Roger discovered that he has a knack for making a big impact with limited resources.
He has created educational videos with a simple digital video camera and a tripod. For example, a video about composting, at right, has had more than 100,000 views on YouTube.
“We want to figure out ways of connecting gardening "haves" with gardening have- nots,” he said. “Whether they need information and technical assistance, space or money, we want to help facilitate that.”
Through KGI, Roger promotes the idea of kitchen gardens growing anywhere there is available land. Perhaps the most public lawn in America is the one in front of the White House in Washington, DC. There is a long history of gardening at the White House, and Roger thought that a garden there would inspire people to plant their own gardens. The campaign started out modestly, and Roger named it “Eat the View”.
“We created a website, made a video and started gathering signatures,” he said. In fact, that garden in his front yard is featured in the video, called This Lawn is Your Lawn, at right.
To help fund the effort, he sold square feet of the White House lawn on eBay. “It was symbolic, of course, we already own the White House lawn,” he said.
It took six months to collect the first 10,000 signatures for the petition. But after the campaign petition was posted to Facebook, it took just six days to get the next 10,000. Soon, from his home office, Roger was in touch with White House advisors. Last spring, Michelle Obama announced that she would plant a garden at the White House. The produce from the garden is used in the White House kitchen, and the rest is donated to a local food shelf.
“Public kitchen gardens like this one really energize people and help them to think about what other views we might eat,” says Roger. “It’s a very healthy thing for people to see food growing”
On top of his work to expand gardening globally, he also works close to home. With his help, all of the schools in Scarborough either now have kitchen gardens or are planning one. And his own garden feeds his family of five.
“Last year we harvested 900 pounds of organic vegetables and I figured out it would have cost $2,200 to buy all that,” he said.
Roger's home garden boasts wide beds that are slightly raised; the paths between them are heavily mulched with grass clippings. Very few weeds are visible with the corn, tomatoes, beans, basil and, of course, Brussels sprouts.
“We are globally focused, but locally rooted,” he said.
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