The Whitehouse Garden Sets A Powerful Example

Categories: Green

April/May 2013

By Michelle Obama 

On March 20, 2009, I was like any other hopeful gardener with a pot out on the windowsill or a small plot by the back door. I was nervously watching the sky. Would it freeze? Would it rain? I had spent two months settling into a new house in a new city. My girls had started a new school; my husband, a new job. And now I was embarking on something I had never attempted before: starting a garden.

I wanted this garden to be more than just a plot of land growing vegetables on the White House lawn. I wanted it to be the starting point for something bigger. I also wanted this new White House garden to be a “learning garden,” a place where people could have a hands-on experience of working the soil, and children who have never seen a plant sprout could put down seeds and seedlings that would take root. And I wanted them to come back for the harvest, to be able to see and taste the fruits (and vegetables) of their labors.

Regardless of how the world may change around us, we still have the power to make good choices about what we feed our families. And gardens across the country are playing a vital role in that process. 

So I had high hopes for those tiny seeds and seedlings going into the grounds of the White House on that spring morning back in 2009. I knew that growing a garden wouldn’t be easy. Some things that get planted just won’t grow, and others grow far too well, taking over the garden. But whatever detours or bumps in the road we would face, I was determined that this garden would succeed.

Fortunately, it did. The seeds took root; the plants grew and produced all kinds of fruits and vegetables; and each new season in our garden brought new gifts and lessons. Spring was a time for new beginnings, when we would plant the seeds of what we hoped to harvest for the rest of the year. Summer was a season of rapid, often breathtaking growth, with plants shooting up and new fruits and vegetables ripening every day. The bounty of fall taught us how, by investing ourselves — our time, energy and love — we were able to fulfill the promise of spring and share our harvest with others.

And over the past three years, our White House kitchen garden has bloomed into so much more. It’s helped us start a new conversation about the food we eat and how it affects our children’s health. And people from all walks of life and every sector of our society are coming together and using gardens — and the food they grow and lessons they teach — to build a healthier future for our children.

It is my hope that our garden’s story — and the stories of gardens across America — will inspire families, schools and communities to try their own hand at gardening and enjoy all the gifts of health, discovery, and connection a garden can bring.

Even though small fruit trees, herbs and potted tomatoes have made appearances at the White House over the years, until Michelle Obama started her garden project, Eleanor Roosevelt’s World War II victory garden was the last time food had been grown on the White House lawn. Mrs. Obama broke ground on the White House garden with help from local schoolchildren in 2009, and the garden has evolved and grown every year since. Many hands have helped grow the fruits and vegetables, including those of the first lady, White House staff, volunteers and dozens of people from the local community. The gardeners have experimented with different bed designs and setups, eventually settling on slightly raised beds. This is the garden in spring 2011. 

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