American Grown by Michelle Obama
The first lady gives readers a tour of the White House Kitchen Garden and other thriving community plots across the country.
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“I first had the idea to plant a vegetable garden at the White House in my kitchen back in Chicago,” writes the first lady. “As the primary season, and then the general election season, wore on, I kept the idea of that garden in the back of my mind. Soon after my husband was elected, I began to think about how to make it a reality.”Skip to next paragraph
Kendra Nordin is a staff editor and writer for the weekly print edition of the Monitor. She also produces Stir It Up!, a recipe blog for CSMonitor.com.
In Pictures The White House vegetable garden
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And she didn't wait long to make it happen. In April 2009 Mrs. Obama broke ground with the help of 23 fifth-graders from Bancroft Elementary School in Washington, the National Park Service, and White House chefs. Not every thing went smoothly. The pumpkins didn't grow. Beautiful melons had no taste at all. The birds got all the blueberries. The president was leery about having a beehive installed near his basketball court.
But this is what makes "American Grown" a fun read. Mrs. Obama invites us to learn right alongside her as she and White House dog Bo wander the paths between raised beds. From her unique vantage point as a White House resident, she also sows in historical context. There is a Thomas Jefferson bed that grows heirloom peas descendent from those raised at the former president's Monticello residence. There are photos of the first White House kitchen garden – a modest Victory Garden – planted under the supervision of Eleanor Roosevelt. And there is the Children's Garden, created under Lady Bird Johnson, as a secluded place to play toward the lower part of the South Lawn. Just below that sits the new Kitchen Garden.
Involving children is at the heart of "American Grown" and it's a book that is engaging and simple enough to interest young readers.
Simple lessons are often the best as this elementary school student wrote in an essay about his day helping to plant the White House Kitchen Garden:
"One of the things that I want to say about being at the White House was how gentle the feeling was. It felt surprisingly 'natural,' to be there. It was all about nature, and what is natural," wrote David Martinez. "My teachers talk a lot about models for our assignments, and how we need to look at them and follow them when we do our own work. I think about the garden project as a model for being gentle: gentle with nature, gentle to your body, and gentle with each other."
In “American Grown,” the first lady visits community and school gardens all across the nation to encourage children to dig in the dirt. There are uncomplicated recipes pegged to each season’s bounty from White House chefs, and tips on everything from how to start your own garden to how to store fresh produce.
Mrs. Obama's timing is as impeccable as a well-timed spring planting – and not because we are at the brink of an all-out political battle for the presidential election. Her national spotlight raises up issues that a nation of foodies are already enamored with – we care about where our food comes from, who grew it, and what it tastes like. It's natural to have our leading family join us at the dinner table as Americans delight in a renaissance of real food.