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First Lady Michele Obama Plants Organic Vegetable Garden at White House

Obamas Hope White House Organic Garden Will Cause Healthy Lifestyles to Blossom

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Michele Obama digs with a shovel as elementary school students look on.

First Lady Michele Obama breaks ground for an organic vegetable garden on the White House lawn.

Photo courtesy of The White House
On March 20, 2009, First Lady Michele Obama celebrated the first day of spring by using her famously well-toned biceps to pick up a shovel and break ground for an organic vegetable garden at the White House. (See the official layout [pdf] of the new White House garden.)

Educating Children a Primary Goal of White House Garden
In talking with reporters about the new garden, the first lady got down and dirty about the benefits of good nutrition and the need to educate children, families and whole communities about the importance of a healthful diet, especially at a time when obesity and diabetes have become national health crises.

Twenty-three fifth graders from Bancroft Elementary School in Washington, DC, helped the first lady dig up the 1,100-square-foot garden plot on the south lawn of the White House, which is near the tennis courts and the swing set the Obamas installed for their daughters and can be seen by people passing by on E Street. The plan is to have the students stay involved in planting, tending, harvesting and cooking the presidential produce.

White House Garden to Feed First Family and the Homeless
The Obamas will grow dozens of varieties of vegetables, berries and herbs—a wish list of fresh produce prepared by the White House kitchen staff—and the first lady said that everyone in the first family will help care for the garden. The garden harvest will become part of the Obamas’ daily fare, contribute to state dinners, and be shared with Miriam’s Kitchen, a nearby soup kitchen for the homeless.

The organic vegetable garden will use only natural fertilizers and pest control methods. Two beehives will be installed and tended by a member of the White House staff. The bees will help pollinate the garden and provide honey for the president’s table.

Obamas’ White House Garden Part of a Long Tradition
Planting an organic vegetable garden at the White House is a potent symbol, but it is not a new idea. Gardening and agriculture have been part of the White House culture at many times throughout its history.

Eleanor Roosevelt planted a victory garden on the White House lawn in 1943, inspiring millions of Americans to start their own backyard gardens during World War II. President John Adams, a farmer as well as a lawyer, planted a garden soon after taking office and tended it carefully throughout his presidency. Thomas Jefferson grazed cattle on the White House lawn, Woodrow Wilson kept sheep, and some histories claim that George Washington refused a third term as president in part because he missed his garden at Mount Vernon.

White House Garden Intended to Inspire Americans
Planting an organic vegetable garden at the White House in the midst of a serious recession, and at a time when Americans are increasingly concerned about the environment, sends a powerful message of health, sustainability and self-reliance. The first lady encouraged all Americans to take that message to heart, even if they are unable to plant a garden and grow their own vegetables.

“You can begin in your own cupboard,” she told the New York Times, “by eliminating processed food, trying to cook a meal a little more often, trying to incorporate more fruits and vegetables.”

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