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April 8, 2009

Green thumbs for White House garden

Q: Are the Obama's really going to plant a garden on the White House lawn? I saw Michelle Obama digging up sod the other night on the news. A garden that size is a lot of work — are they really going to weed and water it themselves? And will it be organic?

A: There is going to be something besides a swing set sprouting on the South Lawn at the White House this year. The popularity of growing vegetables isn't limited to America's back yards. Yes, the Obama family and their helpers are going to plant a vegetable garden at the White House, and yes, it will be organic. It is said that there will even be a White House compost pile!

There certainly has been a lot of talk about this garden being a "community vegetable garden." It won't be the first time the lawn has been used for community agricultural purposes.

The first vegetable garden was planted by the first resident of the White House, John Adams. Woodrow Wilson grazed sheep on the lawn during World War I. The last time the 18-plus-acre White House lawn was used for vegetable gardening was during the 1940s, when first lady Eleanor Roosevelt started a home-gardening movement that helped feed the nation during World War II. It was called a Victory Garden and gardeners across the nation followed suit to support the war.

Victory gardens were my first taste of gardening. My father ordered from the Burpee catalog and gardened after work each evening and every weekend, along with his neighbors, on a vacant lot across from the house they rented. My mother canned vegetables and the kids ate fresh peas, tomatoes and beans right on the spot.

So gardening at the White House won't be a new thing at all. Few people know that White House Executive Chef Cristeta Comerford has been growing herbs on the White House roof for several years. She is also committed to using organic and local foods whenever possible. When the Obama family has a vegetable garden, she'll have fresh, local veggies at her fingertips. But is it all just a photo-op? Do the Obama's even like vegetables?

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