If you think the lovely girls who grace the top of this blog page are excited about the carrots they are holding, imagine just how big those smiles were when they found out that we were going to take a trip down Pennsylvania Avenue to see the newest garden in town. On a crisp Friday morning in October, WYG staff and twenty young gardeners from our Seed to Supper summer program boarded a school bus and crossed the city quadrants on our way to the White House. Even though all twenty of our children on board are DC residents, none of them had been inside the White House gates before.
As burgeoning gardeners, they were anxious to see what was growing in Mrs. Obama's fall garden, as well as to judge the size of her vegetables in comparison to the vegetables grown by their own hands in the Youth Garden this past summer (above picture: the Obama carrots - hard to declare a winner when one contestant is still in the ground).
Once we were lined up at the South Gate, one of Mrs. Obama's staffers, as well as two White House chefs, came out to greet us. After a few Secret Service guys joined our party, we were allowed to enter the gates.
On our way out to the First Lady's garden, we first passed through some of the formal gardens closer to the building. The children commented on and recognized how beautifully kept these traditionally-styled gardens are (whispers of "are those flowers over there real?"). We of course stopped to take our photo with this surreal backdrop behind us, as well as to bask in the envious stares of those tourists who were staring at us through the gates.
Before we got to the garden, we had the surprise pleasure of meeting the White House beekeepers, Adam and Charlie. Thanks to our summer visit from DC bee-vangelist Toni Burnham, who brings her bees out to the youth garden for our children and families every summer, the children were able to tell Adam and Charlie a thing or two about bees. We even hope to have a beehive at the youth garden by next summer, so maybe Adam and Charlie will come visit us next time around (wink, wink). After we all chatted it up about the important role of pollinators in food production, Adam and Charlie took apart a beehive (don't worry, it was empty!) to show us the different parts inside.
They also shared interesting facts about honey bees, like that it takes the equivalent of nine trips to the moon to make one tablespoon of honey! The White House bee hive was a bit tucked away in a little grove of young trees for protection, but situated close enough to the garden so that the bees wouldn't have to travel quite that far to get the ingredients for their honey.
Once we arrived at the First Lady's garden (it felt wrong, but we were allowed to walk across the grass!), White House chef Susie Morrison gave us a pop quiz. She said, since you guys have your own garden, you tell me what we have growing here. Well, the answer was, a lot!
The children identified broccoli, peppers, eggplant, tomatillos, a few tomatoes still hanging on, turnips, kohlrabi, fennel, kale, spinach, lettuce, sweet potatoes, carrots, beets, beans, and mint. We would have scored 100% except for the tricky kohlrabi, which we didn't plant in the youth garden this season.
There was one thing that was missing from this garden though: weeds! The children noticed how clean-cut this garden is, asking Susie, "don't you guys get weeds here or do you just really like weeding?" Susie answered that there was going to be a photo shoot of the garden the next day, so everything was freshly weeded and mulched.
One of our children noticed a big wooden box slightly hidden behind some trees and inquired if that might be the compost, a central part of every organic garden. Susie confirmed that yes, that was the compost, but could not confirm if the Obama family's (uncooked) dinner scraps ended up there.
We really applaud the First Lady's efforts to draw attention to the connection between our health and where our food comes from, which has an especially significant impact on our country's youth. We know from experience that if children grow it, they'll eat it! And a lot of the time, they won't even wipe the dirt off first! The White House has made the public call for school groups to come visit the First Lady's garden, so we hope that more schools and organizations take them up on the offer. It is truly a memorable experience for gardeners of all ages.