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Michelle Obama and students harvest White House kitchen garden.


IMG_0108.JPGMrs. Obama in the White House kitchen garden with students. (photo by Lynn Sweet)

IMG_0121.JPGMrs. Obama with Sam Kass, the former Chicagoan who is an Assistant White House Chef and Food Initiative Coordinator. (photo by Lynn Sweet)

Mrs. Obama helping set the table for a meal in the First Lady's Garden with students. (photo by Lynn Sweet)

Mrs. Obama in the First Lady's Garden talking about healthy eating and President Obama's health care plan.


Office of the First Lady


For Immediate Release June 16, 2009



First Lady's Garden

4:30 P.M. EDT

MRS. OBAMA: Hey, guys.


MR. KASS: Oh, hi.

MRS. OBAMA: Yes, yes, oh hi. Hi back. (Laughter.) Well, welcome back.

CHILDREN: Thank you.

MRS. OBAMA: Here we are. So what did you guys do at your stations? What did
you do?

CHILD: I went in the garden first and then I went to cut lettuce, and then when
I was finished I went into the kitchen and that's where I cooked the lettuce --
I mean -- (laughter) -- chicken.

MRS. OBAMA: You cooked some chicken? So we have some chicken cookers. We had
some what? What did you do, sweetie?

CHILD: I picked peas and lettuce.

MRS. OBAMA: We have some pea pickers, lettuce pickers. Who did some pea
shelling? Because I shelled some peas. I know there were some people shelling
peas. And somebody made a delicious dressing for the salad. I tasted it.
Thanks to the lemons that Tafari was going to leave out. Got some tips.

And who else did -- who did salad stuff? Who helped to peel? So we have -- and
who did the rice? We had rice makers, too. Good, well seasoned brown rice.

So you guys, I want to thank you. I'm just going to say a few words to our
guests in the back who will not get to eat anything. You will just sit and
drool. But we'll describe it to you. (Laughter.)

But I want to just welcome everybody here in the First Lady's Garden at the
White House, and I just wanted to say a few words to make sure that we all
really understand why we're here and what we've accomplished, because today is
really the culmination of a lot of hard work. I mean, we -- I'm really proud of
you all, you kids, all the Bancroft kids, for sticking with this process and for
joining us here today at the harvest party. This is our reward for all that
hard work, and we -- and I want the media here to give these kids a round of
applause. Put your pens down! (Applause.) We're really proud of you guys for
sticking with us.

The planting of this garden was one of the first things I wanted to do as First
Lady here at the White House. It was something I had talked about a long time
ago. And with the help of you guys, you helped to make this dream a reality.
And as you could see when we went down to the garden, can you imagine how
thriving that garden is, just how much food grew from a few little seeds and
some plantings? So this was a big dream of mine for a while, and it's been so
much fun working with you all.

But I also thought that this would be a fun and interesting way to talk to kids
about healthy eating and nutrition. The President and Congress are going to
begin to address health care reform, and these issues of nutrition and wellness
and preventative care is going to be the focus of a lot of conversation coming
up in the weeks and months to come. And these are issues that I care deeply
about, especially when they affect America's children.

Obesity, diabetes, heart disease, high-blood pressure are all diet-related
health issues that cost this country more than $120 billion each year. That's a
lot of money. While the dollar figure is shocking in and of itself, the effect
on our children's health is even more profound. Nearly a third of the children
in this country are either overweight or obese, and a third will suffer from
diabetes at some point in their lifetime. In Hispanic and African American
communities, those numbers climb even higher so that nearly half of the children
in those communities will suffer the same fate. Those numbers are unacceptable.

And for the first time in the history of our nation, a nation that is one of the
wealthiest on the planet, medical experts have warned that our younger
generation may be on track to have a shorter life span than their parents as a
direct result of the obesity epidemic. Again, that is just unacceptable.

So how did we get here? How did we get in this position where we have become
such an unhealthy nation, and our children are at risk? And the fact is there
are a lot of factors, but some of the more simple ones are that too many kids
are consuming high-calorie food with low nutritional value, and they're not
getting enough exercise. It's plain and simple: They're not eating right and
they're not moving their bodies at all.

The way we eat has changed substantially since I was a little girl, and as I
joke, I don't think that was that long ago. Laugh. (Laughter.) Yeah.
(Laughter.) They still think I'm old. But I'm not.

But when I was growing up, fast food was a rarity. It wasn't something you did
every day. It was a special treat, and we would beg to get it, and it was
exciting if we drove into a fast food place and got a hamburger. We were
thrilled. It was like Christmas.

Desserts were for special occasions. We didn't get dessert every night. And we
didn't have dessert several times a day. Eating out was a luxury because at
least in my family we couldn't afford it. If we got pizza on a Friday night,
that was a treat.

And sitting around the dinner table as a family was something that we did all
the time. That was the norm, just not in my household but in the households of
neighborhoods -- of kids in my neighborhoods. You stopped playing and you went
home and you ate dinner with your family, and then you could come back out and

And I have to admit that I never really thought about health and nutrition, not
as a kid, really. But what made me think about nutrition was when I became a
mother, because I certainly didn't think about it for myself. But as a mother,
with the help of our kids' doctor, I became much more aware of the need for my
kids to eat healthy. Like adults, kids have a very simple approach to food.
What do you guys like about food? If it tastes good, right?


MRS. OBAMA: If it tastes good, you'll eat it, right? You don't care what it
is! How many people pulled a snap pea off the vine and ate it today? And it
was pretty good, right?


MRS. OBAMA: Pretty good. Well, I've learned that if it's fresh and grown
locally, it's probably going to taste better. That's what I learned. And
that's how I've been able to get my children to try different things, and in
particular fruits and vegetables. By making this small change in our family's
diet and adding more fresh produce for my family, Barack, the girls, me, we all
started to notice over a very short period of time that we felt much better and
we had more energy, right? And so I wanted to share this little piece of
experience that I had with the rest of the nation, a wider audience, which is
what brings us here today.

This gorgeous and bountiful garden that you saw over there has given us the
chance to not just have some fun, which we've had a lot of it, but to shed some
light on the important -- on the important food and nutrition issues that we're
going to need to address as a nation. We have to deal with these issues.

This garden project, what we've done together, guys, has given us the
opportunity not just to educate children, but to hopefully even educate a few
parents and adults as we go along the way. How many of you have talked to your
parents about what you've been doing? How many of you have started talking
about fruits and vegetables and eating a bit more?

So we've seen some progress even among this small group of kids. The students
with us today have learned about the seasons, right? We learned about when you
plant what and why, where food comes from, what it takes for food to grow, the
process of how food gets from the garden to the plate, and how much more
delicious fresh fruits and vegetables are when they come straight from the

And by making this whole process fun -- and we've got some advantage because we
have the White House, right? It's fun being here, right?


MRS. OBAMA: These students have learned a little bit. They've told us that
they're not only making better choices when they're on their own, but they're
also educating their families about how to eat in a healthier way, as well. And
this is all great news for us, for this group of kids.

But unfortunately, for too many families, limited access to healthy fruits and
vegetables is often a barrier to a healthier diet. In so many of our
communities, particularly in poorer and more isolated communities, fresh,
healthy food is simply out of reach. With few grocery stores in their
neighborhoods, residents are forced to rely on convenience stores, fast food
restaurants, liquor stores, drug stores and even gas stations for their

These food deserts leave too many families stranded and without enough choices
when it comes to nourishing their loved ones. And sadly, this is the case in
many large cities and rural communities all across this nation. So we need to
do more to address the fact that so many of our citizens live in areas where
access to healthy food, and thus a healthy future, is simply out of reach.

But I'm happy to report, as well, that many communities are kind of emulating
what we've been doing. They've been leading the way, many of them, in taking
matters into their own hands and tackling this lack of access on their own by
growing and caring for a whole lot of community gardens, just like the one we

There are more than 1 million community gardens that are flourishing all around
the country, and many of them are in under-served urban communities that are
providing greater access to fresh produce for their neighbors.

The benefit is not just the availability of fresh produce but also it gives the
community an opportunity to come together around gardening and growing their own
food and working together towards a healthier community and a better future for
their kids.

But government also has a role to play in this, as well. For so many kids,
subsidized breakfasts and lunches are their primary meals of the day. It's what
they count on. It's where they get most of their nutrition.

And the USDA⿿s National School Lunch Program serves approximately 30 million
meals each year to low-income* children. And because these meals are the main
source of consistent nourishment for these kids, we need to make sure we offer
them the healthiest meals possible.

So to make sure that we give all our kids a good start to their day and to their
future, we need to improve the quality and nutrition of the food served in
schools. We're approaching the first big opportunity to move this to the top of
the agenda with the upcoming reauthorization of the child nutrition programs.
In doing so, we can go a long way towards creating a healthier generation for
our kids.

My hope is that this garden -- that this garden, through it, we can continue to
make the connection between what we eat and how we feel, and how healthy we are.

And again, I want to thank these kids, all the students at Bancroft Elementary,
for helping us build our garden, see it grow -- and we've done more than that.
The point is, is that you've been part of helping to educate the rest of the
country. And I want you guys to continue to be my little ambassadors in your
own homes and in your own communities, because there are kids who are going to
watch this. They're going to watch this on TV, they're going to read a report
about it or maybe their parents will read a report, and they're going to see
through you just how easy it is for kids to think differently about food. And
you're going to help a lot of people. And that makes me very proud to be
working with you guys on this project.

You are terrific young people. You are all smart. I love your hugs. I love
your smiles. I love the reports that you did for me. You guys are terrific.
You're very blessed, and you should be very proud of yourselves, and continue to
work hard. There's nothing that you can't do. Whether it's being a chef in the
White House kitchen, or a lawyer, or the President of the United States, or a
pea snapper, I don't care what it is, you all have everything it takes. And it
has just been such a delight to work with you.

And I'm going to miss you over the summer, but this garden will be here, and
we're going to keep doing more around the garden. So by the time you're in 6th
grade and 7th grade -- I never want you to get too old or too cool to come back
and see me in this garden. You promise?


MRS. OBAMA: All right, guys. Well, let's eat! (Applause.)

END 4:04 P.M. EDT

* The USDA⿿s National School Lunch Program serves approximately 30 million meals
each year to all children, not just low-income children.


I am so proud of the first lady. It is so refreshing to see how down to earth people in high places can be. Your family is truly God sent.

Love always,


Bravo Mrs. Obama. You are setting a good example by having a garden at the White House and teaching kids the value of good nutrition at an early age. I am so glad you and Mr. Obama are in the White House :)

I am so proud to have Mrs. Oabama as our Nation's First Lady. I related to much to what she said about eating fast food or eating out being a treat and having it quite rarely growing up. I am 36 years old now and I still remember fondly the family meals we had almost every night at our house. It was an important part of the day for us as a family and it makes me so sad to see fewer and fewer families doing that these days. Dinner time is the perfect opportunity to make a difference in our kids' lives; to make sure they are eating healthy meals, to know what is going on from day to day at school, and just to sit together as a family and talk.

I've never wanted to set fire to a blog until now.

Huh? - if it will make you feel better, light a fire and set it to your monitor and do as you want - "I never wanted to set fire to a blog until now." No one is stopping you. Your choice! Your decision!

The Michelle Obama Memorial Kitchen Garden: it takes a Potemkin's Village to raise a garden. Never in the history of gardens has one established itself so swiftly. Perhaps they planted Jacks's magic beans, (or maybe it's the plentiful high quality administration fertilizer). My cucumber plants -- the ones that came up -- are still only 2 inches tall. (I admit the tomato plant I bought from Walmart does have a couple of flowers on it already). Hey, psst, White House press corps: next time I'm feeling blue will you "put your pens down" and bring your pom poms over to my house? Sometimes my adminstration, er, I mean garden, needs a cheering section, too...


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Lynn Sweet

Lynn Sweet is a columnist and the Washington Bureau Chief for the Chicago Sun-Times.

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This page contains a single entry by Lynn Sweet published on June 17, 2009 6:08 AM.

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