Asparagus, potatoes, meat loaf and coleslaw hardly comprise a menu to spark a dinner table conversation. But if the cook is Pat Straub, wife of Oregon Gov. Robert Straub, the simplest fare can become a dazzling lesson in natural foods and organic gardening.
The coleslaw, for instance, is made from homegrown cabbage and homemade mayonnaise with eggs laid by Pat’s organically nurtured chickens. The ground beef in the meat loaf is from one of her son’s organically fed cattle. Potatoes are either Finnish yellows or Pontiac reds. And the asparagus comes from a little nook in her garden near an herb called borage. “Borage encourages plant growth,” says Mrs. Straub, “and it did beautifully with the asparagus.”
Oregon’s First Lady tills a garden that is a model of ecological diversity. “I plant chives among the roses, and it keeps aphids away. I plant large, sweet onions among the strawberry plants, and I don’t get a bug on those strawberries. I’ve planted dill among the cabbage family. And I have wormwood, a strong-smelling herb, inside the fence to keep the moles and gophers and rabbits out,” she explains.
Set in the 65-acre farm where she and the governor live near Salem, Mrs. Straub’s half-acre turns out a rich harvest of vegetables from Jerusalem artichokes to garlic—”loads of garlic”—and her favorite these days, comfrey. “That is a real comer,” Mrs. Straub, 53, says enthusiastically. “It has more protein than alfalfa. It is supposed to have all sorts of curative powers. I often make tea from it when I’m not feeling well. Bob likes to chew the root. You could write a whole book about it.”
The author of a 1974 book on organic gardening, From the Loving Earth, Pat Straub admits that when she and Bob first moved to Oregon (he had visited there as a child), she was a conventional green thumb using all sorts of chemicals. But then her two oldest boys became ill and Pat “began to see how much sense organic gardening made.”
Her early efforts were scorned by husband and kids. “If I hear one more thing about what I have to eat because it’s good for me, I’m going to quit,” Pat recalls Bob saying. “I was never quite sure if he was going to quit eating, quit the marriage or what, but I went underground. I stopped talking about good food and quietly sneaked it in.”
Today she is more appreciated. Her five grown children all are enthusiastic organic gardeners. And Governor Bob, now in his second year of a four-year term, thinks so much of his wife’s cornucopia that last year he invited all of Oregon’s legislators and their wives, in groups of 20, to sample the food and learn the lessons of natural gardening. He didn’t lose a vote.