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White House garden promotes healthy lifestyle


January 14, 2010
By Darlene Superville The Associated Press

Jan. 14, 2010 – To Michelle Obama, her White House garden is more than a plot of land. It's also a soapbox.

To Michelle Obama, her White House garden is more than a plot of land. It's also a soapbox.

The South Lawn garden has given Mrs. Obama a platform to speak out about the country's childhood obesity problem, extol the benefits of eating fresh food, and teach children early to appreciate vegetables.

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It also has offered Mrs. Obama another way to open the White House to people who don't normally visit.

The garden now is ready for winter, fitted with protective coverings called "hoop houses," a kind of temporary green house, to help keep various crops – spinach, cauliflower, lettuce, carrots, cabbage and other greens – growing during the cold months.

In its first year, aides say the garden has ex-"seeded" expectations. It's become so popular that even foreign dignitaries ask Mrs. Obama about it when they meet. Crops have been donated to a neighbourhood soup kitchen, and the first lady's green thumb has inspired others to start gardening, too.

Local fifth-graders whose public school has a similar garden helped prepare the plot, plant the crops and harvest the produce. They even were brought into the White House kitchen to cook some of the food and experience what eating "fresh" tastes like.

During the first lady's recent visit to "Sesame Street" to help Elmo and some kids plant vegetable seeds, Big Bird asked if he had heard correctly that she eats seeds. Not exactly, she replied, but "I do eat what grows from these seeds." She encourages the kids to eat all their vegetables, telling them that if they do, they'll "grow up to be big and strong just like me."

The garden also inspired a culinary showdown on an episode of "Iron Chef America." Filmed partly at the White House, the contest paired White House chef Cristeta Comerford and Bobby Flay against the duo of Mario Batali and Emeril Lagasse.

Their challenge? Whip up five dishes using anything from the garden. The chefs harvested everything from fennel and collard greens to purple cauliflower and Japanese eggplant. Comerford and Flay won the cook-off.

The plot, about the size of a small apartment, has yielded more than 450 kilograms of sweet potatoes, tomatoes, eggplant, broccoli, fennel, lettuce, other vegetables and herbs that White House and visiting chefs have used to feed the Obama family and guests.

A nearby beehive, bolted to the South Lawn to withstand wind gusts from the president's helicopter, produced 60 kilograms of honey. Some was given to spouses who accompanied world leaders to an international economic summit last year in Pittsburgh.

This year, Mrs. Obama plans to involve more students from other schools.

Mrs. Obama's plot is the first large-scale garden project at the White House since the "victory garden" first lady Eleanor Roosevelt planted during the Second World War. The government encouraged such gardens to make sure troops and civilians had enough to eat.


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