Published in Decoded Plants April 16, 2014, this article and one in The Kid-Gardener’s Planting Book for Parents was the result of Chris Eirschele’s visit to the White House that year.
“Hey, people! Little people and big people, how are you guys?” shouts a smiling First Lady Michelle Obama, as she strolls towards the kids sitting at the picnic tables.
With her arms outstretched and offering hugs to all she comes in contact with, Ms. Obama first turns her attention to the youngest in the crowd.
The cloudy sky early in the day had provided a sharp contrast to the exuberance everyone feels this afternoon. The children, dressed in brightly colored t-shirts, came from five local elementary schools to plant cool season vegetables in the White House Kitchen Garden.
From the crowded sideline is Kahalelaha’s mother watching her daughter take part in the planting. It is a time of firsts for the mother and daughter: it is the first year the child is participating in the White House Kitchen Garden; the first year her school, Friendship Public Charter School, was taking part; and the first year the charter school is breaking ground on a garden of their own at the Woodbridge Campus.
The 2014 Spring Planting Event is the sixth season for the White House Kitchen Garden, a project begun by the First Lady in 2009. Cleveland Elementary School was another new participant in this season’s planting. The three returning schools were Bancroft Elementary School, Harriet Tubman Elementary School, and Kimbell Elementary School.
School Children Learn About Community Gardening at the White House
Elementary schools from around the Washington, D.C. area sent 25 fourth and fifth graders to the White House to attend the community gardening event.
Just like the first garden when the First Lady and schoolchildren planted 55 varieties of veggies, some heirloom seeds and others, and herbs; today, kid-gardeners found they would add to the new food plants already dug in: raspberry bushes and a pawpaw tree.
Big people: Sam Kass, Executive Director of Let’s Move; Executive Chef Cris Comerford; and Executive Pastry Chef Bill Yosses sported their chef’s whites; and members of FoodCorps joined the children for fun and laughs.
Ms. Obama announced that the gardeners would install a new Pollinator’s Garden to help attract bees and, in particular, monarch butterflies to the Kitchen Garden. Later, we spotted her digging large holes in the rectangular bed in the back portion of the garden, while other big and little people planted the gallon-sized perennials.
While everyone ambled over to grab wooden-handled trowels, green watering pails and long shovels, the First Lady pulled on her garden gloves. Two children joined Ms. Obama to spread and water seeds into the soil of one of the empty beds.
“You can even get your hands dirty at the White House!” said a smiling Debra Eschmeyer of FoodCorps. As she came running over at the day’s end and after all the transplants had been dug in, she held up her hands caked with dried soil.
Eschmeyer’s spontaneity put a fine cap on a day full of smiling faces from the little kids and big kid-like adults who got to “play in the dirt.”
FoodCorps Link Food Justice and School Gardens Together
Volunteers from FoodCorps were in attendance. The White House invited six service members to participate with the kids to plant the garden. In their local communities, FoodCorps members teach children about healthy food; where it comes from and how to grow it.
Jerusha Klemperer, Co-Founder and Communications Director, said, “FoodCorps believes that all kids regardless of income deserve real, healthy food.”
From across the United States, FoodCorps members digging in the Kitchen Garden on this day were: Eileen Garcia, Greg Beach, Tim Williams, Sarah Ting, Alexis Sangalang, Whitney Smith, and Co-Founder and Chief Executive Officer, Curt Ellis.
Smith and her companions ably jumped in to help the children plant vegetable seedlings at the Kitchen Garden. Smith is in her second year at the Detroit Black Community Food Security Network where she focuses on community gardening and on food justice; a phrase that stresses connecting kids, who might not ordinarily have access to healthy food, to community resources.
Each FoodCorps’ members give a year of public service, ensuring that children grow up in a healthy food school environment. They commit to seeing that the kids learn what real food is.
More People Growing Gardens says National Gardening Association
The White House invited the National Gardening Association to witness the day’s spring planting event. According to Mike Metallo of NGA, “We are seeing more people, particularly young people, actively engage in growing their own food.”
NGA believes that garden events like the ones led by Ms. Obama help bring the importance of fresh food to the forefront and encourages families, who might not otherwise plant food, to grow their own gardens.
The National Gardening Association looked at food gardening in America and produced a five-year study published in 2014. It found that in more than a decade:
– Herb gardening, the second most popular type of growing food, has increased in the last five years.
– The Millennial generation (ages 18 – 34) is the fastest growing population group of food gardeners.
– 42 million households are growing food in a home or community garden; up 17% since the survey began.
Children Find Food Ideas at White House Kitchen Garden
Every growing season since 2009, First Lady Michelle Obama has invited school-aged children from the Washington, D. C. area to participate in planting the White House Kitchen Garden.
These events offer an opportunity for kids to discover gardening and to hopefully bring gardening back to their backyard communities.