First Lady Sends Powerful Message with New White House Vegetable Garden

On the first day of spring, first lady Michelle Obama planted seeds of change on the South Lawn of the White House. With the help of Washington D.C. elementary schoolchildren, she broke ground on a new organic White House “kitchen garden” that will provide food for the first family’s meals and formal dinners as well as a nearby soup kitchen. But the garden’s most important role is to educate the public about healthful, locally grown fruits and vegetables to help prevent obesity and diabetes and save costs.

“We want to use it as a point of education,” the first lady said in an interview in the April issue of O magazine. “We want to talk about health and how delicious it is to eat fresh food, and how you can take that food and make it part of a healthy diet.”

The garden will have 55 kinds of vegetables, including many types of lettuce (such as arugula, butterhead, red leaf, and romaine), spinach, chard, collards, kale, broccoli, shell peas, sugar snap peas, peppers, garlic, shallots, onions, carrots, radishes, and fennel. It will also feature a wide range of herbs, including sage, mint, oregano and rosemary, as well as blueberries, blackberries and raspberries. The White House will use organic seedlings and organic fertilizers, and ladybugs and praying mantises will help control harmful bugs.

Mrs. Obama said she wanted to be able to bring what she learned about getting her kids to eat more fruits and vegetables and how it improves health to a broader base of people.

According to CNN:

The first lady told a group of Washington schoolchildren on hand for the occasion that first daughters Sasha and Malia Obama were usually more willing to try fresh fruits and vegetables because fresh produce generally tastes better.

“What I found with my kids [is that] if they were involved in planting it and picking it, they were much more curious about giving it a try,” she added.

“I’ve been able to have my kids eat so many different things that they would have never touched if we had bought it at a store because they either met the farmers that grew it, or they saw how it was grown,” she said.

“They were curious about it and… usually they liked it.”

What got the first lady thinking so much about good nutrition? The health of her daughters. As a working mother of a busy family, Mrs. Obama sometimes turned to quick convenience food. But the New York Times reported that eating out three times a week, ordering pizza, having a sandwich for dinner all led to added weight on the girls and their pediatrician told Mrs. Obama that she needed to think more about nutrition. He raised a flag for them, and the Obamas responded by eating many more fresh fruits and vegetables. Within months the girls lost the extra weight.

The message is that fresh-grown, local food tastes better and improves health. But even if people do not have time for a garden, there are still many changes they can make, the first lady said.

“You can begin in your own cupboard, by eliminating processed food, trying to cook a meal a little more often, trying to incorporate more fruits and vegetables,” the New York Times quoting Mrs. Obama as saying.


Black, Jane. “Shovel-Ready Project: A White House Garden.” Washington Post, March 20, 2009, C01 – online link.

Burros, Marian, “Obamas to Plant Vegetable Garden at White House,” New York Times, March 20, 2009 – online link.

Stanglin, Doug. “First Lady Breaks Ground on White House Veggie Garden.” USA Today, March 20, 2009 – online link.

“Obamas Plant Organic Kitchen Garden at White House.” CNN, March 20, 2009 – online link.

Superville, Darlene. “Ground is Broken for White House ‘Kitchen Garden.’ ” The Associated Press, March 20, 2009 – online link.

Melissa’s Comments:

What a wonderful example for a nation with a weight problem! Here’s a busy working mother who found that eating quick convenience refined-grain foods took its toll with unwanted weight gain in her daughters. She found the answer to the problem – to eat against the grain of the way most people on the Western diet do and to eat lots of fruits and vegetables instead – and she turned the problem around quickly. Mrs. Obama discovered a creative way to make vegetables more appealing and interesting to her kids, and eating more fresh-grown produce is helping the health of her whole family, including the president, in the process.

The list of produce in the garden developed from a wish list of the chefs and kitchen staff at the White House. But it’s also a great wish list of the wide variety of vegetables people should be eating for improved health from a nutritionist like me.

So, follow the example of the first lady: Grow a garden if you can. If you can’t, take the other steps: Eliminate processed food, cook meals at home more often, and incorporate more fruits and vegetables in the foods you eat every day. I couldn’t have said it better myself!

© Copyright 2009 Melissa Diane Smith

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