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Michelle Obama Launches White House Garden's Second Year

5 years ago
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After planting some rhubarb with students Wednesday at the spring launch of the White House garden, first lady Michelle Obama, hands dirty, gathered the children and commanded the seedlings, "Grow."

"Grow" she said again, throwing her hands at the plants with the flourish of a magician.

With the kids, she danced around the new plants when Sam Kass, an assistant White House chef and food initiative coordinator (one of the overseers of the garden), walked by.

"Did a little growing dance here," Mrs. Obama told Kass.

Kass, in a white chef's coat and jeans, joined the six kids and Mrs. Obama as they marched around the box chanting "rhubarb."

Yes, it was a little goofy. Mrs. Obama, presiding over her "Let's Move" anti-obesity campaign, wanted to add a physical activity to an afternoon where the main message was healthy eating.

Under a spectacular sunny sky, the first lady marked the second year of her celebrated garden on the South Lawn, a venture that proved more successful than anyone in the East Wing originally imagined, as the project gained global notice.

"There's nothing like watching tiny seeds grow into something amazing," Mrs. Obama said. The garden "began a conversation about getting kids and parents and teachers all across the country thinking about living healthy," which helped start "a national and international conversation."

"You guys did it," she said to the kids, sitting at picnic tables with baskets of apples.

"Everybody is talking about that garden, not just here in Washington, not just here in the United States, but all over the world. And we've been able to start thinking about things like getting kids to try new foods that they've never tried, vegetables that they've never had."

The garden this year is expanded by two rows -- an additional 400 square feet, bringing the total to 1,500 square feet. Ground for the original 1,100 square-foot garden on the west side of the South Lawn was cleared on March 20, 2009, and first planted the following month.

Bok choi, mustard greens and artichokes are among the 2010 additions to the crop lineup. Earning a second year in the nation's highest-profile garden are, among other vegetables, peas, spinach, carrots, sorrel, radishes, broccoli, lettuce, cabbage and leeks.

Later on, other new foods -- figs, corn, melons and pumpkins -- will be planted in the fertile soil. Also around for the second year is the White House beehive -- kept nearby to make it an easy commute for the bees.

Last year the garden (a four-season affair, with the winter planting surviving under plastic "hoop houses") yielded about 1,000 pounds of produce, used by the White House chefs or sent to local food pantries or homeless shelters. While mainly vegetables, the crops also included blueberries, raspberries and blackberries. In all, Mrs. Obama said some 55 kinds of food were grown in the first year.

The garden is not, contrary to what many stories have said, organic. It was never intended to be an organic garden, as defined under federal guidelines.

The students were fifth-graders from Bancroft Elementary in Washington and kindergartners through sixth-graders from Hollin Meadows Elementary in nearby Alexandria, Va. Bancroft students helped tend the garden last year and Mrs. Obama visited Hollin Meadows last November.

Besides Mrs. Obama, Kass and the students, other planters included Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack; Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius; White House pastry chef Bill Yosses; executive White House chef Cristeta Comerford; the first lady's chief of staff, Susan Sher; some folks from the National Park Service, plus others.

Sebelius, in a denim shirt and pants, called Mrs. Obama "the most famous vegetable gardener in the world." She told the kids that school lunches need to be made healthier. She was pretty hard on ketchup -- knocking it because it contains a lot of salt and sugar. "You think ketchup grows as a seed?" she rhetorically asked.

Vilsack, in a sport shirt, seemed happy not to have to be inside on a glorious day. "Thank you so much for giving me this opportunity to get outside of the office," he said.

Mrs. Obama, who now has added "gardener" to her resume, said, "It's good digging in the dirt, getting a little dirty, getting dirt under your nails."

FOOTNOTE: Among the East Wing staffers on the South Lawn watching the planting event: in sunglasses, the new White House social secretary, Julianna Smoot. She started on the job March 22. Her first event was the health bill signing. Coming up: Monday's Easter Egg Roll.

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