kitchengarden

The three part opening act of Michelle Obama's White House Kitchen Garden came to a close this Tuesday as the same crop of 5th graders from Washington's Bancroft Elementary School, who had broken ground in March and planted seeds in April, came to the South Lawn once more for an end of year "Harvest Party."

The kitchen garden has already produced 90 pounds of produce for the first family, the White House mess, and Miriam's kitchen, a local shelter, according to Sam Kass, director of the kitchen garden project.

Dressed in coral jeans and a matching cardigan, Michelle Obama and the kids pulled up kale and collards, rhubarb, lettuce, peas, broccoli, and herbs that they had planted earlier in the year.

Later, in the East Wing garden that belongs to the first lady, the kids ate a healthy meal that they had helped prepare, of brown rice, salad, baked chicken breasts (Kass says "breaded and baked is the new fried"), dressing with honey from the White House beehive, and cupcakes topped with fresh fruit.

Obama also took the opportunity to deliver an impassioned, fact-laden speech about the heath aspects of her longstanding agricultural "dream" come true. "This was a big dream of mine, a fun and interesting way to talk to kids about healthy eating and nutrition," she said. "I wanted to share this little piece of experience I had with the rest of the nation, a wider audience."

Using folksy examples from her childhood and her life as a mother to illustrate the importance of locally grown food, the speech also laid out in no uncertain terms the White House hopes for health reform: “The president and Congress are going to begin to address health care reform, and these issues of wellness and preventative care is going to be a focus of a lot of conversation coming up in the weeks and months to come. These are issues I care deeply about, especially when they affect American children.”

In echoes of her earlier intervention into policy debate over her husband's American Reinvestment and Recovery Act, Obama rattled off statistics about obesity, diabetes and other diet related health issues that disproportionately afflict black and latino communities, and cost the US over $120 billion per year. "We have to deal with these issues," she insisted.

The first lady also brought up the injustice of the “food deserts” in poor neighborhoods that "leave too many families stranded and without choices when it comes to nourishing their loved ones.” I reported on this problem on Earth Day, 2009:

Blacks have historically maintained deep ties to the earth, living for centuries—as with most of the world—as subsistence farmers. And so there is something ironic about the fact that black Americans whose ancestors were brought here to work the soil—first as slaves and then as sharecroppers—are now largely clustered in neighborhoods where it is harder to find fresh oranges than “orange drink.”

It looks like both Obamas hope to change this reality, one garden at a time.

—DAYO OLOPADE