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Sam Kass preps and plugs the winter garden

First, he was profiled in Men's Health magazine. Then it was People. Now White House assistant chef Sam Kass has taken the first step to small screen stardom. And by small screen, I mean YouTube.

Today, the White House released a video of Kass and Department of Agriculture officials readying the South Lawn garden for winter. A group of what appear to be a dozen volunteers set up hoop houses – a kind of temporary green house – in which staff will grow cold-weather greens for the White House table. The group also plant a cover crop of rye, which will help protect and enrich the soil during the cold months.

Kass's official title is White House food initiative coordinator. But he also serves as one of Washington's top heartthrobs. By introducing the video, which was filmed Dec. 4, he will not doubt attract thousands of viewers that your average USDA video can't.

USDA officials capitalized on the opportunity. Deputy Secretary Kathleen Merrigan, for example, talked up a new agency program called "Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food," which helps support smaller farmers and local and regional food systems.

USDA brass also outlined a new policy that would offer assistance to farmers who want to build their own hoop houses. Made of ribs of plastic or metal pipe covered with a layer of plastic sheeting, the tunnels are easy to build, maintain and move. They can help provide steady incomes to farmers by letting them grow all year round.

So what is the White House growing this winter? In a blog post, Kass said the team has planted spinach, lettuce, carrots, mustard greens, chard and cabbage. He is especially looking forward to winter spinach, which is so sweet that it "tastes almost like candy."

If anybody can persuade Americans to believe that, it might be Sam Kass.

-- Jane Black

By Jane Black  |  December 16, 2009; 7:00 PM ET
Categories:  Sustainable Food  | Tags: Jane Black, White House Garden  
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Why not just note that the picture shows "unidentified workers?" We don't know whether they are "volunteers" or not. I suspect based on clothing there are at least two Park Service people in the shot. All the others may be Park Service people as well for all we know, "volunteering" on their day off.

Posted by: Curmudgeon10 | December 17, 2009 6:15 AM | Report abuse

I wish I could get the USDA Secretary to come and take a look at my garden and give me advice on what I should be doing in Corrales, NM. Couldn't USDA supply hoop kits for those who want to try this out - at a reasonable cost? And ideas on what to plan via the web? Why wait for professional farmers? How about home owners who are willing to pitch in? Kass could then give us ideas on how to cook swiss chard and kale. Once we grow it ourselves (and fail) there will be a much healthier respect for the local farmers and the environment as well.

Posted by: TumTum | December 17, 2009 9:41 AM | Report abuse

I wonder how many taxpayer dollars paid for the salad on the Obama dinner table?

Posted by: MaryThresher | December 17, 2009 9:48 AM | Report abuse

"I wonder how many taxpayer dollars paid for the salad on the Obama dinner table?"

No need to wonder.

"The president gets paid 400k a year. They have to pay for all of their own amenities like cable TV and electric for their part of the White House. They also have to pay for all of their own food, unless they are hosting a dinner, in which case tax payers pay for it."

Posted by: gary4books | December 17, 2009 10:42 AM | Report abuse

"I wish I could get the USDA Secretary to come and take a look at my garden and give me advice on what I should be doing in Corrales, NM."

OK. How about a subordinate?

"USDA Service Centers are designed to be a single location where customers can access the services provided by the Farm Service Agency, Natural Resources Conservation Service, and the Rural Development agencies. This web site will provide the address of a USDA Service Center and other Agency offices serving your area along with information on how to contact them.
Farm Service Agency
New Mexico Counties"

Posted by: gary4books | December 17, 2009 10:46 AM | Report abuse

In answer to the person who objected to my calling them volunteers. Deputy Secretary Merrigan says in the video that they are White House staff who had volunteered to come out and help. Her point was that it's not that hard to do and you can do it by yourself without a big group. But she used the word "volunteers" so that's why we used it too.

Posted by: Jane Black | December 17, 2009 2:36 PM | Report abuse

MaryThresher - In case you missed it, Mrs. Obama was out there digging and planting the garden when it was first put in, along with a bunch of students from an area school. The garden has been providing food to the White House and to a local shelter to feed those in need. In case you haven't realized it, the president is working for the country so he does get paid for the job he holds, so taxpayer dollars are of course part of the deal. However, the garden providing food does save a great deal of money. Seeds are cheap and a lot of food can be grown from those seeds. Purchasing the same at a market would cost more because you have to include transportation costs. The White House garden should have been in place long before now. The people's land is feeding people, both those in and visiting the White House and those who are homeless and in need of sustenance. What a concept!

Posted by: alaskan2 | December 17, 2009 10:45 PM | Report abuse

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