Research estimates put the average ratio of savings in grocery costs on the vegetables and herbs produced by a home garden at 25-to-1. The Obamas' family of five (including Michelle Obama's mother) will invest $200 for a savings of $5,000.
Yet there are many other home-garden yields as great as the money saved, including physical health, a sense of psychological well-being, the pure joy of truly fresh flavors, and amusements as colorful as Disney World.
Medical research has long established that regular, gentle exercise - bending, stretching, pulling - not only prolongs but also improves quality of life. In this sense, a garden is a permanent personal trainer-in-residence. As the first lady demonstrated vividly in her inaugural garden photograph, a determined smile and strong back are worth a thousand words.
In addition, the psychic rewards of a life lived intimately with plants have been documented since time began. Gardens have been the birthplace of art, poetry, music, medicine, and scientific discovery.
Finally, when compared with store-bought produce that has been picked unripe and shipped hundreds of miles over several weeks, a vine-ripened tomato, freshly dug potato, or just-picked muskmelon possesses flavors that are without comparison. It is primarily for this last reason - which is the unreason of pure delight - that gardens have been the image and symbol of paradise throughout history and across cultures.
These compelling benefits may explain the surprising statistic that approximately one-third of American households engage in some form of vegetable or herb gardening. Industry sales figures suggest that most of these households have gardens smaller than the new one at the White House.
Yet, if every one of the 40 million gardening households in America persuaded just two friends or neighbors to take up this phenomenally worthwhile hobby, there could be more than 100 million household vegetable gardens.
I mentioned above that the Obamas' garden was modest in comparison to that of an experienced and enthusiastic home gardener. I have faith that it will at least double in size by next year, thus reducing the White House grocery bill by $10,000.
Imagine the average household creating a 2,000-square-foot vegetable garden - about the same footprint as a small house or bungalow. Then imagine that smaller and larger families join in, either in their yards or local community gardens. Without too much effort, 100 million households could save an average of $10,000 a year. This would have bailed out the American auto industry several times over.
More cogent is the fact that a trillion dollars or so is the figure being put forward as the total cost of reforming our nation's health-care system. Not a coincidence, in my opinion.
My Depression-era parents grew up doing chores and walking to school several times a day. Occasionally, in their later years, they would bemoan the sudden appearance of school buses in every neighborhood of my hometown, a small and leafy suburb of Chicago. Even I had walked back and forth to school twice a day, for a total of four miles, for six years. My folks would say, "They could save gas as well as keep the kids from going soft."
I wish they had lived to hear my proposal to the president of the United States: a nationwide movement to create a Trillion-Dollar Garden.
George Ball is the chairman of W. Atlee Burpee & Co., a seed supplier in Warminster, and a past president of the American Horticultural Society. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.