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The White House

Remarks by the First Lady at the White House Garden Harvest Party


Office of the First Lady
For Immediate Release                                          June 16, 2009


First Lady's Garden

4:30 P.M. EDT

MRS. OBAMA:  Hey, guys. 
MR. KASS:  Oh, hi.
MRS. OBAMA:  Yes, yes, oh hi.  Hi back.  (Laughter.)  Well, welcome back. 
CHILDREN:  Thank you.
MRS. OBAMA:  Here we are.  So what did you guys do at your stations?  What did you do?
CHILD:  I went in the garden first and then I went to cut lettuce, and then when I was finished I went into the kitchen and that's where I cooked the lettuce -- I mean -- (laughter) -- chicken.
MRS. OBAMA:  You cooked some chicken?  So we have some chicken cookers.  We had some what?  What did you do, sweetie?
CHILD:  I picked peas and lettuce.
MRS. OBAMA:  We have some pea pickers, lettuce pickers.  Who did some pea shelling?  Because I shelled some peas.  I know there were some people shelling peas.  And somebody made a delicious dressing for the salad.  I tasted it.  Thanks to the lemons that Tafari was going to leave out.  Got some tips. 
And who else did -- who did salad stuff?  Who helped to peel?  So we have -- and who did the rice?  We had rice makers, too.  Good, well seasoned brown rice.
So you guys, I want to thank you.  I'm just going to say a few words to our guests in the back who will not get to eat anything.  You will just sit and drool.  But we'll describe it to you.  (Laughter.)
But I want to just welcome everybody here in the First Lady's Garden at the White House, and I just wanted to say a few words to make sure that we all really understand why we're here and what we've accomplished, because today is really the culmination of a lot of hard work.  I mean, we -- I'm really proud of you all, you kids, all the Bancroft kids, for sticking with this process and for joining us here today at the harvest party.  This is our reward for all that hard work, and we -- and I want the media here to give these kids a round of applause.  Put your pens down!  (Applause.)  We're really proud of you guys for sticking with us.
The planting of this garden was one of the first things I wanted to do as First Lady here at the White House.  It was something I had talked about a long time ago.  And with the help of you guys, you helped to make this dream a reality.  And as you could see when we went down to the garden, can you imagine how thriving that garden is, just how much food grew from a few little seeds and some plantings?  So this was a big dream of mine for a while, and it's been so much fun working with you all.
But I also thought that this would be a fun and interesting way to talk to kids about healthy eating and nutrition.  The President and Congress are going to begin to address health care reform, and these issues of nutrition and wellness and preventative care is going to be the focus of a lot of conversation coming up in the weeks and months to come.  And these are issues that I care deeply about, especially when they affect America's children.
Obesity, diabetes, heart disease, high-blood pressure are all diet-related health issues that cost this country more than $120 billion each year.  That's a lot of money.  While the dollar figure is shocking in and of itself, the effect on our children's health is even more profound.  Nearly a third of the children in this country are either overweight or obese, and a third will suffer from diabetes at some point in their lifetime.  In Hispanic and African American communities, those numbers climb even higher so that nearly half of the children in those communities will suffer the same fate.  Those numbers are unacceptable.
And for the first time in the history of our nation, a nation that is one of the wealthiest on the planet, medical experts have warned that our younger generation may be on track to have a shorter life span than their parents as a direct result of the obesity epidemic.  Again, that is just unacceptable.
So how did we get here?  How did we get in this position where we have become such an unhealthy nation, and our children are at risk?  And the fact is there are a lot of factors, but some of the more simple ones are that too many kids are consuming high-calorie food with low nutritional value, and they're not getting enough exercise.  It's plain and simple:  They're not eating right and they're not moving their bodies at all.
The way we eat has changed substantially since I was a little girl, and as I joke, I don't think that was that long ago.  Laugh.  (Laughter.)  Yeah.  (Laughter.)  They still think I'm old.  But I'm not.
But when I was growing up, fast food was a rarity.  It wasn't something you did every day.  It was a special treat, and we would beg to get it, and it was exciting if we drove into a fast food place and got a hamburger.  We were thrilled.  It was like Christmas.
Desserts were for special occasions.  We didn't get dessert every night.  And we didn't have dessert several times a day.  Eating out was a luxury because at least in my family we couldn't afford it.  If we got pizza on a Friday night, that was a treat. 
And sitting around the dinner table as a family was something that we did all the time.  That was the norm, just not in my household but in the households of neighborhoods -- of kids in my neighborhoods.  You stopped playing and you went home and you ate dinner with your family, and then you could come back out and play.
And I have to admit that I never really thought about health and nutrition, not as a kid, really.  But what made me think about nutrition was when I became a mother, because I certainly didn't think about it for myself.  But as a mother, with the help of our kids' doctor, I became much more aware of the need for my kids to eat healthy.  Like adults, kids have a very simple approach to food.  What do you guys like about food?  If it tastes good, right?
MRS. OBAMA:  If it tastes good, you'll eat it, right?  You don't care what it is!   How many people pulled a snap pea off the vine and ate it today?  And it was pretty good, right? 
MRS. OBAMA:  Pretty good.  Well, I've learned that if it's fresh and grown locally, it's probably going to taste better.  That's what I learned.  And that's how I've been able to get my children to try different things, and in particular fruits and vegetables.  By making this small change in our family's diet and adding more fresh produce for my family, Barack, the girls, me, we all started to notice over a very short period of time that we felt much better and we had more energy, right?  And so I wanted to share this little piece of experience that I had with the rest of the nation, a wider audience, which is what brings us here today. 
This gorgeous and bountiful garden that you saw over there has given us the chance to not just have some fun, which we've had a lot of it, but to shed some light on the important -- on the important food and nutrition issues that we're going to need to address as a nation.  We have to deal with these issues.
This garden project, what we've done together, guys, has given us the opportunity not just to educate children, but to  hopefully even educate a few parents and adults as we go along the way.  How many of you have talked to your parents about what you've been doing?  How many of you have started talking about fruits and vegetables and eating a bit more?
So we've seen some progress even among this small group of kids.  The students with us today have learned about the seasons, right?  We learned about when you plant what and why, where food comes from, what it takes for food to grow, the process of how food gets from the garden to the plate, and how much more delicious fresh fruits and vegetables are when they come straight from the garden. 
And by making this whole process fun -- and we've got some advantage because we have the White House, right?  It's fun being here, right? 
MRS. OBAMA:  These students have learned a little bit. They've told us that they're not only making better choices when they're on their own, but they're also educating their families about how to eat in a healthier way, as well.  And this is all great news for us, for this group of kids. 
But unfortunately, for too many families, limited access to healthy fruits and vegetables is often a barrier to a healthier diet.  In so many of our communities, particularly in poorer and more isolated communities, fresh, healthy food is simply out of reach.  With few grocery stores in their neighborhoods, residents are forced to rely on convenience stores, fast food restaurants, liquor stores, drug stores and even gas stations for their groceries. 
These food deserts leave too many families stranded and without enough choices when it comes to nourishing their loved ones.  And sadly, this is the case in many large cities and rural communities all across this nation.  So we need to do more to address the fact that so many of our citizens live in areas where access to healthy food, and thus a healthy future, is simply out of reach.
But I'm happy to report, as well, that many communities are kind of emulating what we've been doing.  They've been leading the way, many of them, in taking matters into their own hands and tackling this lack of access on their own by growing and caring for a whole lot of community gardens, just like the one we planted. 
There are more than 1 million community gardens that are flourishing all around the country, and many of them are in under-served urban communities that are providing greater access to fresh produce for their neighbors. 
The benefit is not just the availability of fresh produce but also it gives the community an opportunity to come together around gardening and growing their own food and working together towards a healthier community and a better future for their kids.
But government also has a role to play in this, as well.  For so many kids, subsidized breakfasts and lunches are their primary meals of the day.  It's what they count on.  It's where they get most of their nutrition.  
And the USDA?s National School Lunch Program serves approximately 30 million meals each year to low-income* children.  And because these meals are the main source of consistent nourishment for these kids, we need to make sure we offer them the healthiest meals possible.
So to make sure that we give all our kids a good start to their day and to their future, we need to improve the quality and nutrition of the food served in schools.  We're approaching the first big opportunity to move this to the top of the agenda with the upcoming reauthorization of the child nutrition programs.  In doing so, we can go a long way towards creating a healthier generation for our kids.
My hope is that this garden -- that this garden, through it, we can continue to make the connection between what we eat and how we feel, and how healthy we are. 
And again, I want to thank these kids, all the students at Bancroft Elementary, for helping us build our garden, see it grow -- and we've done more than that.  The point is, is that you've been part of helping to educate the rest of the country.  And I want you guys to continue to be my little ambassadors in your own homes and in your own communities, because there are kids who are going to watch this.  They're going to watch this on TV, they're going to read a report about it or maybe their parents will read a report, and they're going to see through you just how easy it is for kids to think differently about food.  And you're going to help a lot of people.  And that makes me very proud to be working with you guys on this project.
You are terrific young people.  You are all smart.  I love your hugs.  I love your smiles.  I love the reports that you did for me.  You guys are terrific.  You're very blessed, and you should be very proud of yourselves, and continue to work hard. There's nothing that you can't do.  Whether it's being a chef in the White House kitchen, or a lawyer, or the President of the United States, or a pea snapper, I don't care what it is, you all have everything it takes.  And it has just been such a delight to work with you. 
And I'm going to miss you over the summer, but this garden will be here, and we're going to keep doing more around the garden.  So by the time you're in 6th grade and 7th grade -- I never want you to get too old or too cool to come back and see me in this garden.  You promise?
MRS. OBAMA:  All right, guys.  Well, let's eat!  (Applause.)
                      END             4:04 P.M. EDT