The First Lady
The First Garden Gets Its First Planting
By Jane Black
The international press may have been exclusively interested in what Michelle Obama was wearing on her first trip abroad last week. But the first lady said that the world leaders she met were curious about something else entirely: "The number one question I got as the first lady from world leaders -- they were excited about this garden," she told a group of students who had come to help seed the new 1,100 square foot plot on the South Lawn. "Every single person from Prince Charles on down, they were excited we were planting this garden."
The planting was the second event to publicize the new garden, which was first announced last month. Mrs. Obama stressed that the garden was an easy -- and inexpensive -- way for families to get fruits and vegetables into their diet. She asked the children to guess how much it cost to install the garden. The first guess: $100,000. "My husband would go crazy if he thought we were spending that kind of money," she said with a laugh. "No, a little lower than that."
The organic garden, which will supply fruits, vegetables and honey for the first family, White House staff and state dinners, cost about $200 to put in place.
Mrs. Obama was joined at the planting by Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, who used the event to make his pitch for more healthful school lunches. "We're going to try to make it so your meals are even better tasting and better for you than they have been," he told the 25 students from Bancroft Elementary in Mount Pleasant.
The Child Nutrition and WIC Reauthorization Act, which funds the school lunch program, is under review by Congress this session and Vilsack is lobbying for new funds to be budgeted to purchase fresh fruits and vegetables, which cost more.
"It is now the job of USDA and the administration to make sure that Congress gives us the resources, which I believe they will, to make sure that as we grow these fruits and vegetables, youngsters have access to them in their daily diets and that youngsters understand how important it is to have fruits and vegetables on their plate," Vilsack added.
Under a brilliant blue sky, Obama, Vilsack, the students and a team of White House chefs planted 25 varieties of heirloom seeds and seedlings including kale, rhubarb, arugula and 10 kinds of herbs. One bed contains plants favored by Thomas Jefferson, including Brown Dutch and Tennis Ball lettuce, Prickly Seed spinach and Savoy cabbage.
The garden, a series of raised beds (PDF), is not certified organic; that process takes three years. The White House did have the soil on the lawn tested, and found that there were no chemical residues.
Weather permitting, Assistant White House Chef Sam Kass said the first crop of lettuce, spinach and herbs will be ready in about two weeks. When asked if the first family would be alerted when produce from the garden ended up on their plates, Kass answered: "They'll know. They'll be able to taste it."
Posted at 6:37 PM ET on Apr 9, 2009
The First Lady
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