On March 20, 2009, I was like any other hopeful gardener with a pot out on the windowsill or a small plot by the back door. I was nervously watching the sky. Would it freeze? Would it snow? Would it rain? I had spent two months settling into a new house in a new city. My girls had started a new school; my husband, a new job. My mother had just moved in upstairs. And now I was embarking on something I had never attempted before: starting a garden.
But this was not going to be just any garden—it would be a very public garden. Cameras would be trained on its beds, and questions would be asked about what we had planted and why we had planted it. The garden was also being planted on a historic landscape: the South Lawn of the White House. Here even the tomatoes and beans would have a view of the towering Washington Monument.
When I first arrived in Washington, I wasn’t even sure that we could plant a garden. I didn’t know whether we would be allowed to change the landscaping on the White House grounds, or whether the soil would be fertile enough, or whether there would be enough sunlight. And I had hardly any gardening experience, so I didn’t even really know how to go about planting a garden in the first place.
But one thing I did know was that I wanted this garden to be more than just a plot of land growing vegetables on the White House lawn. I wanted it to be the starting point for something bigger. As both a mother and a first lady, I was alarmed by reports of skyrocketing childhood obesity rates and the dire consequences for our children’s health. And I hoped this garden would help begin a conversation about this issue—a conversation about the food we eat, the lives we lead, and how all of that affects our children.
I also knew that I wanted this new White House garden to be a “learning garden,” a place where people could have a hands-on experience of working the soil and children who have never seen a plant sprout could put down seeds and seedlings that would take root. And I wanted them to come back for the harvest, to be able to see and taste the fruits (and vegetables) of their labors.
So in 2009, on a chilly and windy, but thankfully sunny, first day of spring, I joined twenty-three fifth graders from Bancroft Elementary School in Washington, D.C., with shovels, rakes, pitchforks, and a few wheelbarrows to break ground for the White House Kitchen Garden. Twenty days later, we were ready to plant. We put in lettuce and peas, spinach and broccoli, kale and collard greens. And for days after that, I would look at the freshly turned soil and wonder to myself, is anything growing?
Copyright © 2012 by Michelle Obama. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.