Michelle Obama, Loveable Vegetable Pusher

The First Lady writes on her efforts to grow a healthier nation

FLOTUS Michelle Obama, master of flora and florals, is making the publicity tour rounds for her new book, American Grown: The Story of the White House Kitchen Garden and Gardens Across America. On Tuesday, she appeared on The Daily Show, artfully fielding Jon Stewart’s questions about wielding her high approval rating during marital spats and whether it’s tough to raise kids around Joe Biden. “My kids hang around him, and I’m good with it,” she said, also mentioning that her experience trying to entice her daughters to eat well gave her the idea to create a garden at the White House.

Like her appearance on the show, the First Lady’s book is carefully inoffensive, but her earnestness about the importance of healthful eating shines through. When she first arrived at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, she didn’t know if she’d be allowed to alter the grounds, which are technically a National Park and have a storied history of their own. In the early 1900s, Edith Roosevelt planted a colonial garden off the West Wing, which Ellen Wilson replaced with the formal Rose Garden. FDR later commissioned Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr. to design the South Lawn, while Eleanor Roosevelt made a small victory garden for growing vegetables during WWII. That was the last time food was grown on the White House lawn, until Obama got the go-ahead on her initiative.

From the start, she wanted the plot to be a learning garden for the entire community. April 9, 2009 marked the first day of spring and the first planting day of the White House Kitchen Garden, for which Obama recruited the help of 5th graders from Bancroft Elementary School, a bilingual school in Washington D.C. Hundreds of students have since followed suit—tending to everything from bok choy to potatoes, rhubarb to raspberries—and deciding they might like broccoli after all.

The book is filled with beautiful photographs and delicious anecdotal tidbits. The garden staff made sure to strap down the beehive so that the wind from the presidential helicopter, Marine One, wouldn’t tip it and anger its residents. Even so, President Obama worried that the honeybees would swarm around him on his way to a pickup basketball game. Ultimately, beekeeper Charlie Brandts’ assurance that they were more interested in nectar than politics proved true, but the garden was not without it’s share of hiccups: overzealous blackberries, nonexistent pumpkins, tasteless cantaloupes, and bothersome infestations. White House problems!

But while you might not be gifting the fruits (and vegetables) of your labor to Prince Charles like Obama, she’s adamant that you too can worry about cucumber beetles. American Grown includes profiles on gardens around the country, plus detailed instructions on how to start your own and engage your kids in the process. What’s more, there are recipes from White House Executive Chef Cristeta Comerford and her expert team, which tends to design state dinners around what produce is in season. Corn soup with summer vegetables and a slice of rhubarb strawberry crumble pie, anyone?

Nichola Hunt

Cocktail aficionado. Large dog breed lover. Fondness of summer dresses. Hater of pickles. Born in London, based in Bali.

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