Michelle Obama’s Vegetable Garden

I just sent this story to a bunch of folks, saying this is part of why I love Michelle Obama.

On Friday, Michelle Obama will begin digging up a patch of White House lawn to plant a vegetable garden, the first since Eleanor Roosevelt’s victory garden in World War II. There will be no beets (the president doesn’t like them) but arugula will make the cut.

While the organic garden will provide food for the first family’s meals and formal dinners, its most important role, Mrs. Obama said, will be to educate children about healthful, locally grown fruit and vegetables at time when obesity has become a national concern.

Twenty-three fifth graders from Bancroft Elementary School in Washington will help her dig up the soil for the 1,100-square-foot plot in a spot visible to passers-by on E Street. (It’s just below the Obama girls’ swing set.) Students from the school, which has had a garden since 2001, will also help plant, harvest and cook the vegetables, berries and herbs.

As Teac just said to me, this brings small tears to the eye.

More below:I am just… so thrilled by this. This WAS my childhood and something we have been passing onto our own children the past 5 or 6 years.

All of my family had gardens when I was a kid; my cousins and I were used to helping out our grandparents every weekend. We raised our own potatoes, corn, cucumbers, tomatoes, peppers, carrots, onions and beans. Picked bushels of apples, got covered with scratches picking raspberries. Raked blueberries. Helped weed, water, harvest, can, freeze, preserve.

We learned from walking age onward how to grow our own food.

How “hands’ on” will the First Family be?

Almost the entire Obama family, including the president, will pull weeds, “whether they like it or not,” Mrs. Obama said laughing. “Now Grandma, my mom, I don’t know.” Her mother, she said, would probably sit back and say: “Isn’t that lovely. You missed a spot.”

I suspect that the President, like Charlie and I, will discover that there is something remarkably normal and relaxing about pulling some weeds once in awhile. Something about the simple act of growing your own food is humbling and clarifying. It helps settle your over-active mind and relaxes you.

That’s as best as I can explain it. It’s primal, this growing your own food; it just gets right down into you.

Okay, but how much is this gonna cost? Will it be organic?

The Clintons grew some vegetables in pots on the roof of the White House. But the Obamas’ garden will have 55 varieties of vegetables – from a wish list of the kitchen staff – grown from organic seedlings started at the executive mansion’s greenhouses.

The Obamas will feed their love of Mexican food with cilantro, tomatilloes and hot peppers. Lettuces will include red romaine, green oak leaf, butterhead, red leaf and galactic. There will be spinach, chard, collards and black kale. For desserts, there will be a patch of berries. And herbs will include some more unusual varieties, like anise hyssop and Thai basil. A White House carpenter who is a beekeeper will tend two hives for honey.

Total cost for the seeds, mulch, etc., is $200.

The plots will be in raised beds fertilized with White House compost, crab meal from the Chesapeake Bay, lime and green sand. Ladybugs and praying mantises will help control harmful bugs.

Honestly, raised beds are so easy and efficient. I cannot recommend this as a wonderful way to start learning how to grow your own food. Small container gardens work well, but more attention is required to ensure they don’t dry out and the plants don’t wilt.

And the “Why is the First Lady doing this?”

Why indeed.

Mrs. Obama, who said that she never had a vegetable garden before, said the idea for it came from her experiences as a working mother trying to feed her daughters, Malia and Sasha, a good diet. Eating out three times a week, ordering a pizza, having a sandwich for dinner took it’s toll. The children’s pediatrician told her she needed to be thinking about nutrition.

“He raised a flag for us,” she said, and within months the children lost weight.

For children, she said, food is all about taste, and fresh and local taste better.

“A real delicious heirloom tomato is one of the sweetest things that you’ll ever eat,” she said. “And my children know the difference, and that’s how I’ve been able to get them to try different things.

I wanted to be able to bring what I learned to a broader base of people. And what better way to do it than to plant a vegetable garden in the South Lawn of the White House.”

The country’s one million community gardens, she said, can also play an important role for urban dwellers who have no backyards.

Baltimore’s Patterson Park community garden was the first one I ever saw; it was amazing.

Michelle Obama rocks. Pure and simple.

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