Michelle Obama expands the White House garden

Last year's White House garden wasn't big enough, Michelle Obama decided. So she expanded it this year. Already, the first lady and schoolchildren have begun planting vegetables in the popular plot.

By , Associated Press Writer

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    Wesley Johnson, left, and Sharolyn Hyson, center, watch as first lady Michelle Obama, right, works in the garden at the White House on Wednesday, March 31, in Washington.
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First lady Michelle Obama welcomed spring to the White House Wednesday by replanting her popular vegetable garden with the help of local elementary school students.

Mrs. Obama was joined on the South Lawn of the White House by third- through sixth-grade students from Bancroft Elementary School in Washington and Hollin Meadows Elementary School in Alexandria, Va. Both schools have gardens that Mrs. Obama has visited.

"Some of your classmates and some of you guys were part of helping us get the first garden ready, right?" she asked the students. "And this year we're ready to do it again."

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IN PICTURES: The White House vegetable garden

Mrs. Obama said that the 1,000 pounds of food harvested last year fed many people, both at the White House and at nearby homeless shelters. The work on the garden started a national conversation about healthy eating, she said. [See note below about possible lead contamination of the garden last year.]

"Everybody is talking about that garden, not just here in Washington, not just here in the United States, but all over the world," she said. "And we've been able to start thinking about things like getting kids to try new foods that they've never tried, vegetables that they've never had."

She told the students that no matter where people live or how old they may be, they can still garden, noting the fun of spending time outdoors and digging in the dirt.

To illustrate that point, the first lady knelt in the 1,500-square-foot garden and planted two rows of broccoli as well as some rhubarb.

After the rhubarb was in the ground Mrs. Obama and some of the children performed what she called a "growing dance" around the wooden planter. The group chanted "grow, rhubarb, grow" several times, then circled the planter and finished by throwing their hands in the air.

White House assistant chef Sam Kass, who oversees the garden, joined in for the last round of the dance.

The newly planted garden is 400 square feet larger than last year and will contain four new vegetables: bok choy, cauliflower, artichokes, and mustard greens.

Joining Mrs. Obama were Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius ,and several White House chefs.

Is the White House garden contaminated with lead?

Editor's note, added later: Several people have commented on the report from last summer that the soil in the White House garden was high in lead, and it was speculated that this was a result of sewage sludge used at the request of the Clintons to fertilize the lawn when they lived there.

According to The New York Times, the lead level wasn't high enough to be considered harmful by the EPA, and a professor of environmental sciences at Johns Hopkins is quoted as saying that the level is pretty normal. The head groundskeeper during the Clinton administration says that sewage sludge was used once, in 1985 1995.

Click here for an analysis from Reuters: White House garden lead scare a bit overblown.

And here are more links and updates on the issue from Grist.

IN PICTURES: The White House vegetable garden

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