Gardening with the First Family
First Lady Michelle Obama (with help from local schoolchildren) broke ground on a new vegetable garden on the South lawn on Friday, March 20 as photographers, reporters, and White House kitchen staff looked on. So, maybe the sod was a little tougher to get through than they expected, and the kitchen staff all jumped in to help. (A lovely photo op, but if you're starting from scratch this year too, you should know there are easier ways to start a garden from sod!)
So there's a First Family, a First Lady, a First Dog… do we have to call this the First Garden?
While not the first veggie garden ever at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave, this is the first vegetable garden on the White House grounds since Eleanor Roosevelt planted a Victory Garden in 1943.
According to The New York Times, The Clintons had a small vegetable garden on the roof to have fresh herbs and veggies for the White House kitchen, but at that time it was felt that a vegetable garden on the White House lawn was not consistent with the formal, stately appearance of the property. (Times have changed somewhat; the Obamas’ veggie garden is near the tennis courts, out of view from the White House but visible from the street.)
Having a garden on the property will just make it even easier for White House executive chef Cristeta Comerford to prepare meals using fresh, local produce, and provide healthy, fresh herbs and vegetables for meals served to the First Family, esteemed guests, state dinners and other special events.
Michelle Obama has outlined her additional motives for vegetable gardening at the White House: educating children and the community about the benefits of healthful eating, nutrition, and the importance of fresh fruits and vegetables in the everyday diet. Like many this year, this is the First Lady’s first vegetable garden.
White House assistant chef Sam Kass will oversee the gardens. The garden will have organic seeds and heirlooms, use organic fertilizers and organic pest-control methods, including sprays and beneficial insects. The White House will compost kitchen scraps. Surplus harvest will go to a local food kitchen. The garden will be maintained by the First Family, White House staff, and local schoolchildren. The schoolchildren are already experienced gardeners; they have a garden at their school and will help keep, harvest, and even cook the food from the White House garden.
The garden will contain many different types of lettuce and peas, as well as spinach, radishes, carrots, onions, shallots, broccoli, kale and collards, even rhubarb. The plan is based on a wish list provided by White House chefs. There is a well-stocked herb garden. The garden walkways are lined with Marigolds, Nasturtium, and Zinnia. Fresh fruits and berries grow nearby. And two beehives will be maintained by White House staff carpenter Charlie Brandts, who is also a beekeeper.
“Cristeta Comerford, the White House’s executive chef, said she was eager to plan menus around the garden, and Bill Yosses, the pastry chef, said he was looking forward to berry season.” – New York Times March 19, 2009
There has been some good-natured ribbing about the White House vegetable garden not having beets (the president doesn’t care for them) but all of us at Park are wondering – unless we missed something on the planting plan, where are all the Tomatoes, Peppers, Beans and Corn?