- Author: Rose Hayden-Smith
Today has been a blur. Woke up early, dressed carefully and ate breakfast while we discussed a morning meeting with Deputy Agriculture Secretary Kathleen Merrigan and pinned down details about our White House visit.
Because it’s late and has been an amazingly long day, I’m mostly going to share about our visit to the White House garden. After attending a meeting at the USDA – and again visiting one my favorite gardens, the People’s Garden – our group walked over to the White House. We took a group picture on the north side of the White House, and then walked over to the south side for a group picture. You can see the White House kitchen garden from there, but it’s not a close view.
After waiting for a bit, we went through security screening. Our instructions were clear. No bags, no pictures, only what you could carry in your pocket. Neither my dress or cardigan had pockets, so I tucked my picture ID, some cash and my business cards in my shoe. (I know, I know). After we passed through security, we entered an atrium type area, where a member of the security staff provided very interesting answers to our questions about White House history, the First Family, the garden, etc. The staff person confirmed that in fact, Mrs. Obama is often in the garden.
Then, Assistant White House chef Sam Kass arrived. Kass came with the Obama family from Chicago to work in Washington, and has been instrumental in the White House kitchen garden project. Clearly, Kass is also driving pieces of the emerging White House food initiatives. He introduced himself to each of us personally, and shook everyone’s hand. We were then escorted outside across the lawn to the garden.
Kass shared a great deal of information about the garden. It’s not a huge garden, but has already produced several hundred pounds of food. Food from this garden is used by the First Family, has been served at official functions, and has also been donated to a local food bank.
Kass allowed us to sample tomatoes from the garden. They were warm from sunshine, and popped with flavor. Many of the plants being cultivated are heirloom varieties, and much of the garden philosophy – and plant material – is driven by one of our founding farmer fathers, Thomas Jefferson. A small plaque in the garden provides a Jefferson quote. Broccoli, lettuce, cabbage, tomatoes, herbs, sweet potatoes…and more, including a fig planted among mint. I rubbed the mint leaves and then smelled my fingers…amazing.
The garden is very well-tended…it has to be. There are many visitors. But…it looks achievable. There is also a weather station, and a bee hive, where honey has been collected.
Kass answered nearly every question we asked him thoroughly and thoughtfully. We were not permitted to take pictures.
I deeply appreciate that the First Family is modeling good health and eating by initiating this effort, and maintaining this kitchen garden. I value that the First Lady has school children come to visit the garden to learn. I love that the food produced is consumed by the family, and that some portion goes to less fortunate families. I love the contributions that Sam Kass, with his dynamic nature and good food ideas, has made to upping the status of gardening in our nation today. Thank you all for taking this important step.
Several blocks away, the USDA People’s Garden sends equally positive messages. Sited on the national mall, this garden is a first. Like the White House garden, it sends important messages to thousands of people each day about gardening, healthy eating, and the right use of civic space. A garden on the national mall…sacred space used for a civic purpose.
A special thanks again to my dear friend and fellow Fellow Roger Doiron, whose work promoting the idea of a White House garden really made this visit possible for us. Today was the culmination of a dream for Roger. It was also his birthday, and we sang the traditional birthday song to him as we stood in the White House garden, together, celebrating this special day.
Tonight, well over a hundred people gathered to learn about and discuss the food system. Each fellow was asked to make brief remarks about their work. Here’s what I shared:
“We were a nation of farmers at formation. We are a nation of farmers still, at heart. This is demonstrated by the garden revolution sweeping the nation. Seven million new gardeners this year. Seven million.
Yesterday, and again this morning, I visited the People’s Garden at the USDA. This garden is on the National Mall. Sacred space. I also visited the First Family’s garden at the White House. Both experiences were profoundly moving.
Last night, President Obama told the nation it is a “season of action.”
He is right. It is a season of action: it is time to move these initiatives out across the nation, to begin a NEW American revolution. A revolution that will create a garden in every school, every home, every community, and every workplace across the nation.”
- Breakfast meeting with Fellows to plan next steps.
- Giving talk on the Garden Revolution at U.S. Botanic Garden.
- Meeting with Christine Flanagan, U.S. Botanic Garden.
- Meeting with one of my favorite WWI historians, Elaine Weiss.
- Go to airport, blog like crazy, board plane, fly back to Oxnard via LAX.
- If no flight delays or issues, arrive home between 12:30 and 1:00 a.m.
Random Observations: During our visit, we saw the White House basketball court/tennis court. We also saw the First Dog, Bo, on the south lawn of the White House. We were far away, but it was clearly Bo.