Photo by Melody

Obamas to Plant White House Vegetable Garden!

By Darius Van d'Rhys (dariusMarch 21, 2009

Yesterday, Friday March 20, 2009 was an historic day for all gardeners, but particularly for the vegetable and fruit gardeners. For the first time since Eleanor Roosevelt planted a Victory Garden at the White House in 1943, there will once again be a vegetable garden at the White House. A number of 5th-grade students joined First Lady Michelle Obama on Friday, March 20, 2009 to break ground on an 1100 square foot garden on the South Lawn at the White House.

Gardening picture

In the April issue of "O, The Oprah Magazine," Mrs. Obama told Oprah, "We want to use it as a point of education, 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."[1] Mrs. Obama has been a strong supporter of healthy eating with building nutrition in the White House kitchens and elsewhere.

The fifth graders from Bancroft Elementary School in Washington will help Mrs. Obama dig up the soil for the 1,100-square-foot plot in a spot visible to passersby on E Street. (It’s just below the Obama girls’ swing set.) Students from the school, which has had a garden since 2001, will also help plant, harvest and cook the vegetables, berries and herbs. Almost the entire Obama family, including the president, will pull weeds, “whether they like it or not,” Mrs. Obama said laughing. [2]

 White House Kitchen Garden Plan

The organic garden will be planted with shallots, shell peas, onions, spinach, several varieties of lettuce, many herbs, blueberries, raspberries, raspberries and even rhubarb. (However, no beets as President Obama has a very public dislike of the humble root vegetable.[3]) Click on the garden plan photo above to take you to a larger photo of the garden layout where you can see what will be planted in designated areas. In all, there will be 55 varieties grown from organic seedlings started at the greenhouse of the executive mansion. The garden will be planted in raised beds amended with compost, lime and greensand and will have ladybugs and praying mantis’ for some pest control.

Additionally, there will be two beehives tended by a White House carpenter who also keeps bees.

 Image Image
 Bee collecting pollen for honey
Honeycomb in beehive

The garden bounty will be used in White House meals, but it will also have a larger purpose. Mrs. Obama, in an interview in her office with the New York Times, said,  “My hope is that through children, they will begin to educate their families and that will, in turn, begin to educate our communities.” She is and has been promoting eating healthful local grown fruits and vegetables at a time when obesity has become a national concern.

There has been much public interest and encouragement for such a project, and campaigns like Eat the View  and White House Organic Farm Project have collected hundreds of thousands of signatures. Also, there have been many “celebrities” from food and garden sectors who have encouraged and supported such a venture. Here are just a few:

Eliot Coleman, organic farmer, author of The New Organic Grower and Four-Season Harvest
George DeVault, President & Executive Director, Seed Savers Exchange, Inc., Decorah, IA
Michael Pollan, Knight Professor of Journalism at the University of California, Berkeley and author, most recently, of In Defense of Food: An Eater's Manifesto
Alice Waters, founder, Chez Panisse
Rick Bayless, Award-winning chef-restaurateur, cookbook author, television personality, and founder of the Frontera Farmer Foundation
Deborah Madison, cookbook author and founding chef of Greens restaurant

The winner for the contest "on/day/1" as the most popular suggestion for the new President was Eat the View.

For a look at the history of White House Gardens, see Gardeners in the White House by Tamara Galbraith.  If this historic event encourages you to plant your first vegetables, how wonderful for us all! However, if you feel intimidated at the thought, just remember Michelle Obama has never planted a garden either.

End Notes:

[1] "Oprah Talks to Michelle Obama: The Exclusive O Interview" O, The Oprah Magazine, April 2009


Photo Credits:
Honeybees on a honeycomb, iStockphoto # 6517545, Used by Permission
Sunflower bee, iStockphoto # 5472335, Used by Permission
The garden design photo is from and used under a Creative Commons license.

The thumbnail photo of the White House is in the public domain.

  About Darius Van d'Rhys  
Darius Van d'RhysI have a 'growing my own food' obsession that comes from my overlapping interests in cooking, nutrition and gardening. I am also a "teacher", a writer, a builder… and a craftsperson and... and… and many other things, LOL. In fact, I guess I am a generalist, and a Seeker. I live in the southern Appalachian Mountains on a hillside with a creek in front, and drive a 15 year old truck I lovingly call “My Farmer’s Ferrari.” Editor's note: Darius passed away on March 19, 2014. Her readers will miss her greatly and we are thankful for her legacy of wonderful articles.

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