Author Michael Pollan suggested last fall that the next president–as part of a broader move to encourage understanding of and support for sustainable agriculture–should appoint a White House Farmer.

“Since enhancing the prestige of farming as an occupation is critical to developing the sun-based regional agriculture we need, the White House should appoint, in addition to a White House chef, a White House farmer,” wrote Pollan, the author of books such as The Omnivore’s Dilemma and In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto. “This new post would be charged with implementing what could turn out to be your most symbolically resonant step in building a new American food culture. And that is this: tear out five prime south-facing acres of the White House lawn and plant in their place an organic fruit and vegetable garden.”

The idea caught on, and the campaign to get President Obama to appoint a White House farmer has captured the imagination of tens of thousands of Americans–thanks in no small part to an election that is being held to select three finalists for the position. Their names will be submitted to Obama as part of the campaign to get him to embrace Pollin’s proposal.

The voting finishes at midnight Saturday, and several dozen contenders are making their pitches at the great White House Farmer website.

Pioneering chef and restaurateur Alice Waters is in the running.

Here’s her campaign statement:

Alice Waters was born on April 28,1944, in Chatham, New Jersey. She graduated from the University of California at Berkeley in 1967 with a degree in French Cultural Studies, and trained at the Montessori School in London before spending a seminal year traveling in France. Alice opened Chez Panisse in 1971, serving a single fixed-price menu that changes daily. The set menu format remains at the heart of Alice’s philosophy of serving only the highest quality products, only when they are in season. Over the course of three decades, Chez Panisse has developed a network of mostly local farmers and ranchers whose dedication to sustainable agriculture assures Chez Panisse a steady supply of pure and fresh ingredients. Alice is a strong advocate for farmer’s markets and for sound and sustainable agriculture. In 1996, in celebration of the restaurant’s twenty-fifth anniversary, she created the Chez Panisse Foundation to help underwrite cultural and educational programs such as the one at the Edible Schoolyard that demonstrate the transformative power of growing, cooking, and sharing food.

Another popular contender, Wisconsin community gardenerClaire Strader says:

Claire is just the woman to turn 5 acres of the White House lawn into the nation’s premier urban farm. Claire has worked in small-scale organic agriculture for 15 years, including her 8 years at Troy Community Farm where she turned a 5-acre parcel of weedy urban landscape into a highly productive and wonderfully beautiful vegetable farm. Not only does Claire produce food for CSA, market, and wholesale on this small urban farm, she also educates college students, high-school youth, and adult volunteers through the farm’s internship programs. Claire is an excellent farmer and educator who could not only feed the first family and others in the DC community well, but also serve as a brilliant role model for future farmers all over this country.

What’s more, Claire’s farm is part of a larger non-profit that also runs a 5-acre community garden, a restored prairie, and several kids’ gardening programs on 26 open acres in the city of Madison, WI. Community GroundWorks at Troy Gardens not only feeds people, it also teaches people to feed themselves. Claire’s work with this organization connects her with other growers and educators who have the skills and ambition to help this country both eat local and grow local. First the White House lawn, then the lawns across the nation!

Read up on the candidates and cast your vote for White House Farmer.

It’s easy–just go to the White House Farmer site and read up on the contenders. Then go to the voting list and click your candidate.

It’s also important. The United States can and should be a leader when it comes to smart policies with regard to land and food issues.

Just as the appointed Surgeon General can and should be an important communicator with regard to medical issues, an appointed White House Farmer could become a major player in the debate what we eat and how we produce it.