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The White House

FLOTUS remarks from garden planting event

Office of the First Lady
For Immediate Release                      April 9, 2009


South Lawn
3:15 P.M. EDT

MRS. OBAMA:  Well, hello!  Hi, Sam, how are you?  Wow, look at this.  This is a big difference.  How are you guys doing?


MRS. OBAMA:  Well, welcome to the White House -- the White House Kitchen Garden.  This is pretty exciting, right?


MRS. OBAMA:  Well, who -- how many of you were here the last time to help us?  Oh, you guys were all here.  I thought I saw some familiar faces.  So you know what we're doing -- this is part two.  What are we going to do today?

CHILDREN:  Planting.

MRS. OBAMA:  We're going to plant the seeds.  And I want to introduce you to Secretary Vilsack, who is the head of the Department of Agriculture.  He's going to talk in a minute about some of the programs he's going to do for your school lunches. 

But first, one thing I want to let you know -- I don't know if you were paying attention, but the President and I, we went on this long trip.  We were in many, many countries -- we were in Europe.  And the number one question I got as the First Lady from world leaders -- they were all excited about this garden. 

Every single person, from Prince Charles on down, they were excited about the fact that we were planting a garden, because in many countries they really believe in the importance of planting and growing your own food.  So they were fascinated and grateful to all of you for helping make this possible.

So what I want to ask again -- why do you -- why is this so important?  Why do you think it's important for us to plant this garden? 


CHILD:  Because it's been since -- a long time since Roosevelt planted --

MRS. OBAMA:  That's a good -- we have a historical perspective.  It's been a very long time since a garden was planted, since the time of Roosevelt.  This is a young historian here.  That's true. 

What about you, young lady?  What do you think?  Why is this important?

CHILD:  So you can be healthy.

MRS. OBAMA:  So you can be healthy.  So why do you think fruits and vegetables are important to health?  Yes.

CHILD:  (Inaudible.)

MRS. OBAMA:  Fruits and vegetables have nutrients and vitamins, yes. 

CHILD:  Energy?

MRS. OBAMA:  Energy.  Energy, absolutely.  Any other?  You, young man.

CHILD:  It can make you strong.

MRS. OBAMA:  It can make you strong -- yes, absolutely.  This is one of the main reasons we're doing this, is that what I've learned as a mom, in trying to feed my girls, is that it is so important for them to get regular fruits and vegetables in their diets, because it does have nutrients, it does make you strong, it is all brain food.  And when you go to school, it is so important for you to have a good breakfast, to make sure in your lunches that you have an apple or an orange or a banana, that you have something green when you eat any meal, lunch or dinner. 

And we're looking to you guys to help educate the country, not just in your own homes, but other people as they think about how to plan their meals for their kids, to think about the importance of making sure that we have enough fruits and vegetables.  And doing this garden is a really inexpensive way of making that happen. 

Do you know how much -- I mean, look how big this garden is.  Do you know how much it costs to just do this?  And we're going to have carrots and spinach and herbs and berries.  We're going to have a ton of stuff in this garden.  How much do you think it costs to do this garden?  How much?

CHILD:  Over $100,000. 

MRS. OBAMA:  Over $100,000.  (Laughter.)  My husband would go crazy -- (laughter) -- if he thought we were spending that kind of money.  No, a little lower than that.  How much do you think?  You.

CHILD:  I think $5,000?

MRS. OBAMA:  $5,000?  No, a little lower.  Yes.

CHILD:  $1,000?

MRS. OBAMA:  $1,000?  No.

CHILD:  $200.

MRS. OBAMA:  $200 -- it doesn't -- it hasn't cost us more than $200 to plant this.

CHILD:  $100?

MRS. OBAMA:  It's about $100 -- it's between $100 and $200.  So it's not a lot of money.  And this garden can not only feed my family, but it's going to feed all the staff at the White House.  We're going to use these vegetables to help feed you guys.  We're going to serve it at some State Dinners.  So with this little plot of land -- and this is a big plot; you don't even have to plant this much -- we can produce enough fruits and vegetables to feed us for years and years to come -- for just a couple of hundred dollars.  Now, isn’t that amazing? 

So we're looking to you guys to help us make it happen.  So we're going to plant the seedlings today.  And then in a few months, hopefully right around the time you get out of school, you can come and help us harvest the fruits and vegetables, and come into the White House with all of our chefs and start doing a little cooking.  How does that sound?


MRS. OBAMA:  Well, thank you guys for coming back again.  I hope you had fun the first time.  You guys are weather producers because you have brought another perfect day.  Thank you for that.  And now I'm going to turn it over to Secretary Vilsack, who is going to talk a little bit about some of the programs he's doing especially for school lunch programs.

Secretary Vilsack.  (Applause.)

3:20 P.M. EDT
White House Kitchen Garden Fact Sheet

The White House Kitchen Garden measures approximately 1100 square feet and is located on the west side of the South Lawn.  It is visible from E Street, with a perfect southern exposure which provides a great deal of sun light.

The soil was tested and was found to be in good shape, including trace elements.  Amendments have been made to enrich the soil and rock dusts of lime, green sand, crab meal sourced from the Chesapeake Bay and White House compost have been added to improve the macro and micro nutrient balance.  Only organic fertilizers and insect repellants will be used and lady bugs and praying mantises will be introduced to naturally control other insect populations.  A honey bee hive has been set up nearby for pollination purposes.

The four-season herb, fruit and vegetable garden will feature 25 varieties of heirloom seeds planted in slightly raised beds using succession planting methods. 

Perennial Herbs:
Mint, Garlic Chives, Chives, Thyme, Oregano, Anise hyssop, Sage, Rosemary, Marjoram, Chamomile

Annual Herbs:
Parsley, Basil, Thai basil, Cilantro, Dill, Fennel 

Lettuces (Green Oak Leaf, Red Romaine, Butterhead, Speckled), Spinach, Onions, Shallots, Chard, Snap Peas, Shell Peas, Carrots, Black Kale, Rhubarb, Arugula, Tomatoes, Tomatillos, Peppers (sweet and hot), Beans, Cucumbers, Okra, Sweet Potatoes

Blueberries, Raspberries

Additionally, The Monticello Foundation and head gardener Peter Hatch have donated seeds and sprouts that originated in Thomas Jefferson’s garden.  Plantings will include Brown Dutch and Tennis Ball lettuces, Savoy Cabbage, and Prickly Seed Spinach, all reportedly Jefferson’s favorites, and a favorite fig plant, the Marseille Fig, will be planted in a raised bed with Mint. 

The garden will be tended by Dale Haney, Grounds Superintendent for the White House, and the White House kitchen staff, including Sam Kass, Assistant White House Chef and Food Initiative Coordinator.  Students from Bancroft Elementary in Mount Pleasant, Washington, DC will participate in the groundbreaking, planting and harvesting of the garden.

Produce from the garden and honey from the hive will be available to the White House Chefs for preparing meals for the First Family, for official functions and donations will be made to Miriam’s Kitchen, a soup kitchen near the White House. 

The cost for the seeds and amendments is approximately $200. 

SOUTH GROUNDS - Chronology

President George Washington receives transfer of land for the new federal city.  In 1792, he moves slightly to the west the site which Maj. Pierre L'Enfant had selected for the President's House and construction begins under architect James Hoban.

John Adams, as the first President to occupy the White House, orders a vegetable garden.  Probably laid out to the northeast of the building, it was not planted after Adams left office in March 1801.

Thomas Jefferson plants trees on about eight acres of the construction-scarred grounds that he encloses within a wooden fence.  In 1808, the south side fence is replaced with a stone wall. The origin of the hillocks on each side of the South Lawn, long called the "Jefferson Mounds," is disputed.

The grounds are more fully divided north (public) and south (private) by the construction of east and west terraces (1805-1808) by Benjamin Latrobe after design sketches by President Thomas Jefferson (planned length of each abbreviated in 1806).

On the southeast side, at the western end of Pennsylvania Avenue, Benjamin Latrobe erects in 1808 a gateway in the form of a classical triple-arched brick triumphal arch (removed in 1857).

South Portico is constructed for James Monroe by James Hoban.

John Quincy Adams develops the first flower garden (southeast of the East Terrace, as sited by Thomas Jefferson).  In 1827 he wrote of two acres covered with at least one thousand "forest and fruit-trees, shrubs, hedges, esculent [edible] vegetables, kitchen and medicinal herbs, hot-house plants, flowers, and weeds."

Andrew Jackson creates the White House orangery (hothouse for citrus fruit trees, roses, and camellias) in an east side structure never attached to the East Terrace.  He also adds more trees to the grounds, possibly including the "Jackson magnolia" to the west of the South Portico.

The garden and orangery on the east side (expanded in 1853 by Franklin Pierce) are demolished for the expansion of the Treasury Department.  The first of several greenhouses is constructed atop the West Terrace.

1866, 1871
East and West Executive Avenues are built as public ways on each side of the White House.

Ulysses S. Grant extends the grounds south beyond the perimeter originally defined in 1801 by Thomas Jefferson’s fence.

South Fountain is created near the south end of the enlarged South Grounds, a broad pool replacing a smaller fountain (c.1857) nearer the South Portico.

Hundreds of trees are planted under Rutherford B. Hayes, who begins the tradition of commemorative trees.

The conservatory is removed during the Theodore Roosevelt renovation of the White House, exposing again the Jeffersonian West Terrace to which is attached a new office building (later called the "West Wing").  Edith Roosevelt plants a "colonial garden" beside the terrace.

The first tennis court - built in 1903 beside the West Wing - is rebuilt on its current site further south on the South Grounds during the William Howard Taft expansion of the West Wing.

Ellen Wilson replaces the colonial garden on the west with a formal rose garden and a new East Garden is created.

Playground equipment -  slide, jungle gym, and tree-mounted swing - is installed near the mound on the east side of the South Lawn for Franklin D. Roosevelt’s grandchildren, Sistie and Buzzie Dall.

Under Franklin D. Roosevelt, renowned landscape architect, Frederick Law Olmsted Jr., prepares a plan for the grounds.  The South Grounds are to be a park-like grove of trees cut through by a broad southward vista.

The current fence is completed around the South Grounds with a taller iron fence, similar to the 1818 north fence, replacing the low Victorian style fence around the east, south, and west sides of the grounds.  The installation includes new gates and stone piers at the east and west entrances to the South Grounds.

Putting green is created on the west side of the South Lawn for Dwight D. Eisenhower (removed 1971, rebuilt on original foundations 1995).

John F. Kennedy has the Rose Garden redesigned to serve presidential functions and places management of the White House grounds under the National Park Service.

Playground equipment - swing set and jungle gyms- is installed on the west side of the South Lawn for Caroline and John F. Kennedy, Jr.

Lady Bird Johnson has the East Garden redesigned and named in honor of Jacqueline Kennedy.

Lady Bird Johnson adds the Children’s Garden, an intimate area adjoining the tennis court on the South Grounds.

Gerald R. Ford installs the first outdoor swimming pool at the White House, the 1933 indoor pool in the West Terrace having been covered over in 1970 beneath the new Press Room.

Tree house designed by Jimmy Carter is installed for daughter Amy on the ground beneath the low-hanging branches of a tree near the west mound on the South Lawn.

Horseshoe pitch is created beside the swimming pool for George H.W. Bush (removed 1993, rebuilt 2001).

Basketball half-court is created beside the National Park Service maintenance building on the southwest of the South Grounds.

Jogging track is created around the inside of the south driveway for Bill Clinton (removed 2008).

Playground set is installed for Malia and Sasha Obama south of the West Wing.

First Lady Michelle Obama plants White House Kitchen Garden on west side of lower South Lawn.

Office of the Curator
March 2009