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The First Garden Gets Its First Planting


First lady Michelle Obama plants herbs in the White House Kitchen Garden with students from Bancroft Elementary School in Washington on the South Lawn of the White House. (Charles Dharapak/Associated Press)

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  | Category:  The First Lady
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Once you get the shovels and hoes, etc; the only cost is the seed and sometimes organic fertilizer and potting soil each year to start your own seeds to transplant. The White House probably already has shovels and hoes, etc. to borrow. Equipment lasts for years. Seeds can be bought on early sales through many sources. Heirlooms seeds can be saved. This is great. Churches and businesses can get involved and take a portion of their land and grow food for their members and employees and share with the local food bank. Thank You so much First Lady for your leadership. This is really getting back to some of those values that made this country great. Linda Joy Adams

Posted by: LindaJoyAdams | April 10, 2009 2:26 PM

Ms. Black, My hunch is they didn't plant rhubarb seeds, but rhubard chard seeds. Watch and try that veggie in your own yard, as they are delicious, and don't bolt too easily which is terrific. Rhubarb roots will be at either side of one entrance to the garden. One rarely plants rhubarb seeds.

Posted by: eatinglowonthefoodchain | April 10, 2009 12:41 PM

$200 to set up an 1100 sf garden?! In their dreams!! They've obviously never gardened! They had 5 new shovels/rakes in the press photographs. At $20 a pop, that leaves $100 for the rest of the cost of the garden.

I'm all for the garden - I think it's a sensational idea. But first we see Mrs. Obama in her pretty blue dress with a shovel, and now she's telling us it cost $200 to start up. Lies! Lies!

Posted by: farmgirl1 | April 10, 2009 12:02 PM

We just put in our own "recovery garden" in our very small front area and in pots on our patio. We put in a raised bed in front, 3 feet by 9 feet. That alone cost about $200.00 because you need additional soil to have a raised bed, and you need "sides" for the raised bed. A lot of our soil was free because we keep a compost barrel going all year, and we had a great crop of worms from that as well. Seeds are relatively inexpensive, but if they are going to have anything in two weeks, they planted pots with small plants already started. I spent about $200 on a combination of potted starters and seeds, and have about 10 different herbs, peppers, eggplant, tomatos and chard already growing well, but after three weeks, nothing is ready to eat. I'm a rabid Democrat, and I don't think they should be counting labor costs, because no home gardener does that, but I don't think it's helpful not to explain that you either do a lot to amend your own soil and prepare it in advance, and start your seeds in little pots and nurture them, or you won't see good results, and certainly not fast results. People will be disappointed that magic doesn't happen. Gardening, like everything else the Obamas talk about, takes time and attention to detail to be successful.

Posted by: SharonToji | April 10, 2009 10:21 AM

>>Nobody knows exactly why the republicans are outraged but as sure as day they will find a reason.

I can't say for certain but maybe it's that the event was so full of mindless propoganda.

-The organic garden...cost about $200 to put in place.

-The White House did have the soil on the lawn tested, and found that there were no chemical residues.

-"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...

-"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..."

-Assistant White House Chef Sam Kass said the first crop of lettuce, spinach and herbs will be ready in about two weeks.

Posted by: rpatoh | April 9, 2009 11:34 PM

Watch out First Lady, the republicans are outraged about planting fruits and vegetables and having sweet fifth graders at the White House to help you nurture the Garden. Nobody knows exactly why the republicans are outraged but as sure as day they will find a reason. Way to go Michelle, what an awesome idea, and it involves children. I love the garden idea.

Posted by: kubrickstan | April 9, 2009 11:15 PM

REPSSUCK,
>>This is a great project that costs nothing to install or tend to.(cost is $200 for seeds etc) The employees get paid no matter what they do.

That's a good one. It can also be said that Obama's stimulus package doesn't cost anything since the bankers who supported Obama, Dodd, Frank, etc. get paid tens of millions no matter what they do.


Posted by: rpatoh | April 9, 2009 10:53 PM

A good idea would be to give every school in the country an extra $200 so they could turn, at least a portion of, their playgrounds into organic fruit and vegetable gardens. The produce could be used to supply the school cafeterias and the kids could be taught that there is no free lunch.
As Obama continues to encourage US industry to move offshore, farming will be a necessary skill for the kids to learn.

Posted by: rpatoh | April 9, 2009 10:46 PM

MO looking a bedraggled in this photo. The strain is showing. Probably the travel or the anxiety of office, but could be something worse?

Posted by: georgejones5 | April 9, 2009 9:58 PM

It's amazing how people are so full of hatred until they feel moved to criticize lettuce.

Posted by: ehperkins1971 | April 9, 2009 9:23 PM

Shouldn't they be calling this the "Recovery Garden"?


***

DID FED 'TORTURE MATRIX' HIT HILLARY '08 RALLY?

http://www.dailykos.com/story/2009/4/3/715887/-Did-Bush-Cheney-Torture-Matrix-Hit-Hillary-08-Rally


GOV'T FUSION CENTER SPYING: PRETEXT TO HARASS AND CENSOR?

http://www.dailykos.com/story/2009/4/9/718146/-Govt-Fusion-Center-Spying:-Pretext-to-Harass-and-Censor


IF LINKS ARE CORRUPTED:

http://dailykos.com/user/aviben

Posted by: scrivener50 | April 9, 2009 8:12 PM

They put in trasplants.

Posted by: barnardj1 | April 9, 2009 8:03 PM

For what it's worth, Dale Haney, the lead groundskeeper, will be one of the people taking care of the garden.

During W's term, he spent a good deal of time tending to Barney and Spot.

http://www.examiner.com/x-1028-Pet-News-Examiner~y2008m11d22-The-White-House-man-who-will-help-care-for-the-Obamas-dog

Let's hear it for the Obama's turning the White House yard into a hands-on classroom for DC public school kids! And cheers to the Bancroft Elementary kids for lending some helping hands!

Posted by: britjedi | April 9, 2009 8:03 PM

cr10 wrote: "100K is probably closer to the amount it cost to put in. I mean how much are the employees paid to install/tend to this garden? WTF"

Sorry man, I can see you've never gardened. It depends on how much site work was needed. Then there's soil admendment, gas for the tiller, seeds are about $2.50 a pack, and the White house gardeners are probably looking after it along with their other landscape duties, and they get paid $15 to $20 an hour for a government job. So, it's really inexpensive and not a right-wing talking point. But, I do have to say that they're dreaming if they think the spinach and lettuce will be ready in two weeks, it takes about that long for the seeds to just germinate. They better have a decent vegetable gardener working there.

Posted by: bromisky | April 9, 2009 7:53 PM

cr10 you you will criticize the Obamas no matter what. This is a great project that costs nothing to install or tend to.(cost is $200 for seeds etc) The employees get paid no matter what they do. So go back to sleep and don't think too much you may hurt yourself.

Posted by: REPSSUCK | April 9, 2009 7:43 PM

100K is probably closer to the amount it cost to put in. I mean how much are the employees paid to install/tend to this garden? WTF

Posted by: cr10 | April 9, 2009 7:25 PM

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