White House kitchen garden used to promote nutrition, tackle obesity

Michelle Obama hopes the next first family will continue the garden and turn it into a White House tradition

Washington, D.C. –– When Michelle Obama vacates the White House early next year, she will leave her kitchen garden, but not her passion for better health for Americans.

“The first lady is incredibly dedicated to this work,” Deb Eschmeyer, head of Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move! program and a senior adviser for nutrition policy, told reporters attending the North American Agricultural Journalists’ annual meeting April 25. “It is her passion. It is her life mission.”

Obama, along with the help of elementary students from several schools with garden programs, planted this year’s White House kitchen garden April 11 — the eighth since Obama dug up a piece of the White House south lawn in 2009 to plant vegetables to promote nutritious food and exercise to Americans, and especially children.

“(The garden) takes the conversation to a whole other level,” Obama said during this year’s planting party.

This is the eighth planting of Michelle Obama’s kitchen garden, seen here April 25. Obama hopes the next first family will continue the garden and make it into a White House tradition.

This is the eighth planting of Michelle Obama’s kitchen garden, seen here April 25. Obama hopes the next first family will continue the garden and make it into a White House tradition.
photo: Allan Dawson

The kitchen garden is part of Obama’s ‘Let’s Move’ campaign, created to reduce childhood obesity to five per cent by 2030 from the current 17 per cent. About 31 per cent of American children are overweight or obese.

Proportionately, adult Americans are fatter than Canadians, but Canadians are catching up. Sixty-seven per cent of Americans 20 years and older are overweight, including 34 per cent who are obese, according to the U.S. Center For Disease Control.

“The physical and emotional health of an entire generation and the economic health and security of our nation is at stake,” Obama says on the Let’s Move! website.

Over the last 30 years childhood obesity in United States has tripled, the website says.

“If we don’t solve this problem, one-third of all (American) children born in 2000 or later will suffer from diabetes at some point in their lives,” the website reads. “Many others will face chronic obesity-related health problems like heart disease, high blood pressure, cancer and asthma.”

These days kids exercise less and eat more high-calorie snacks and fast food.

Americans eat 31 per cent more calories than 40 years ago, including 56 per cent more fats and oils and 14 per cent more sugars and sweeteners.

“The average American now eats 15 more pounds of sugar a year than in 1970.”

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Obama’s kitchen garden was the first at the White House since Eleanor Roosevelt’s 1943 Victory Garden, part of the war effort.

“This is my baby,” Obama said planting day, adding she hopes the new president keeps the garden, turning it into a White House tradition.

White House vegetable garden

photo: Allan Dawson

The garden also helps kids learn more about food, Eschmeyer said.

“What’s so beautiful is it’s getting kids connected with food and fibre and appreciating our farmers and fishers and everything that they’ve done to feed our country,” she said. “It’s something we are very proud of and we are going to continue to work on well past the current administration.”

The kitchen garden, which is mainly tended to by volunteer White House staff, is not just symbolic — the produce is consumed by the Obama family and is also served at state dinners.

“You are literally seeing what the president and first lady are eating every night,” Eschmeyer said. Surplus produce goes to Miriam’s Kitchen, a local organization that prepares fresh, healthy meals for the homeless.

Fruit trees, a pollinator garden and honeybees have been added to the garden, which is producing something all year.

In April spring crops, such as lettuce and onions, are grown. After the risk of frost passes, tomatoes — which the Obamas love, says Eschmeyer — peppers and eggplants are planted.

White House vegetable garden

photo: Allan Dawson

Hoop houses allow lettuce and cabbage to be grown during the mild Washington, D.C. winters.

The garden has been effective, Eschmeyer said.

“There’s been a real culture shift around people caring about what they’re eating and physical activity and a lot is because we’ve made healthy eating fun and accessible and approachable,” she said.

“We’ve seen this resurgence in gardens in schools everywhere.”

For more information on garden projects visit the Let’s Move! website.

About the author

Reporter

Allan Dawson

Allan Dawson is a reporter with the Manitoba Co-operator based near Miami, Man. Covering agriculture since 1980, Dawson has spent most of his career with the Co-operator except for several years with Farmers’ Independent Weekly and before that a Morden-Winkler area radio station.

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