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Michelle Obama to grow vegetable garden at White House

by Joan Murphy | March 29, 2009
WASHINGTON -- Nothing sells organic produce like a picture of the first lady Michelle Obama and a team of fifth graders planting a vegetable garden for the White House kitchen.

Just days after Alice Waters, owner of Berkley, CA-based Chez Panisse and a well-known food activist, called for a White House organic garden on the weekly news show "60 Minutes," the first lady gathered 26 school children to begin digging a 1,100-square-foot organic garden on the South Lawn.

"My girls like vegetables more if they taste good," Ms. Obama was quoted as saying at the press event. "Especially if they're involved in planting it and picking it, they were willing to give it a try."

The White House plans to spend $200 on seeds and mulch for the four- season fruit and vegetable garden, and the lucky fifth-graders plan to return in a few weeks to plant the fruits and vegetables, which have not been grown on White House grounds since Eleanor Roosevelt's Victory Garden. The foods will be used by White House chefs for preparing meals for the Obamas, for official functions and to donate to a nearby soup kitchen.

Only organic fertilizers and insect repellants will be used, and ladybugs and praying mantises will be introduced to naturally control other insect populations, said the White House. A honey bee hive will be set up nearby for pollination purposes.

Besides a variety of herbs, the White House garden will include lettuce (green Oak Leaf, red Romaine, Butterhead and Galactic), 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, blackberries and raspberries.

The Organic Trade Association praised the White House for planting the garden and offered to stage an event in September during Organic Harvest Month.

"It's also exciting that she involved school children who can learn about healthful, locally-grown produce," said Barbara Haumann, press secretary for the association. "It's a great role model."

Ms. Haumann said that her group is poised to release new sales figures on organic products, including fresh produce, in the next few weeks. While she had not seen the numbers yet, she anticipated that organic produce sales will continue climbing, though more slowly as the economic downturn reduces household spending.

"We still predict double-digit growth," she said.

Other food sales may lose ground, but organic product sales continue to increase - just at a slower rate, Ms. Haumann added.