WASHINGTON – Twenty-six elementary schoolchildren wielded shovels, rakes, pitchforks and wheelbarrows to help first lady Michelle Obama break ground on the first day of spring for a produce and herb garden on the White House grounds.
Crops to be planted in the coming weeks on the 1,100-square-foot, L-shaped patch near the fountain on the South Lawn include spinach, broccoli, various lettuces, kale and collard greens, assorted herbs and blueberries, blackberries and raspberries.
There will also be a beehive.
“We’re going to try to make our own honey here as well,” Obama told the fifth-graders from Bancroft Elementary School in Washington before they got to work on Friday. The school has its own community garden.
The students will be brought back to the White House next month to help with the planting, and after that to help harvest and cook some of the produce in the mansion’s kitchen. The first harvest is expected by late April.
Obama said her family has talked about planting such a garden since moving to the White House in January.
After she spoke, the students were paired off and handed a gardening tool. The first lady joined – first with a shovel, then a rake – and together they began pulling up the grass, dumping it into wheelbarrows and depositing the contents in a central location.
“Are we done yet?” Obama jokingly said at one point. “I want to plant. Let’s harvest something.”
When finished, the students sat at three picnic tables for treats of apples, apple cider and cookies baked in the shape of a shovel.
Some of the produce from the garden will be served in the White House, including to the first family and at official functions. Some crops also will be donated to Miriam’s Kitchen, a soup kitchen near the White House where Obama recently helped serve lunch.
Assistant chef Sam Kass said the garden will exist year round, and the crops will change with the seasons.
He gave no estimate on how much produce the garden would yield, but said, “It should be quite a bit, if we’re lucky.”
Obama, who has spoken about healthy eating, said the garden’s purpose is to make sure her family, White House staff and guests can eat fresh fruits and vegetables. She said she has found that her 10- and 7-year-old daughters like vegetables more if they taste good.
“Especially if they were involved in planting it and picking it, they were much more curious about giving it a try,” she said.
Such a White House garden has been a dream of noted California chef Alice Waters, considered a leader in the movement to encourage consumption of locally grown and organic food. She has lobbied the White House to plant such a garden for more than a decade.
“Fresh, wholesome food is the right of every American,” Waters said. “This garden symbolizes the Obamas’ commitment to that belief.”