As one of the teachers involved with Michelle Obama and the White House vegetable garden, I’ve been impressed with the sudden surge of public interest in the simple act of children planting seeds. At Bancroft Elementary School, where I work first and foremost as an art teacher, we know only too well the benefits children get from growing their own food.

But I don’t think the public has any inkling how hard it is for teachers to maintain school gardens like the one we have at Bancroft. Despite all the hoopla over school gardening, the truth is teachers engage in these activities at risk of their jobs. You see, gardening is not part of the mandated school curriculum. We are supposed to be teaching reading and math. As much as we believe school gardens offer a multitude of teaching opportunities, schools do very little to support us. Principals and teachers have been bluntly told that they will lose their jobs if math and reading scores don’t improve. We desperately need help. We need someone to take charge of our school gardens. Read more

Knowing that the obesity epidemic in the United States has some scientists predicting that for the first time in history American children will live shorter lives than their parents, my wish for the next decade is to see First Lady Michelle Obama, President Barack Obama and his administration succeed in their mission to ensure that every American child has access to healthy and affordable food. A recent gathering of Obama Administration officials invited to discuss their efforts to improve America’s food system left me hopeful that my wish will come true. Read more

First Lady Michelle Obama and White House Chef Sam Kass set a great example this spring when they planted their vegetable garden on the White House lawn. The garden has taught D.C. kids where their food comes from, fed heads of state from around the world, and hosted last month’s Healthy Kid’s fair. Most importantly, the garden has shown families across America that you can eat healthy, affordable, responsible food right out of your own backyard.

This winter, the First Lady can take it one step further. Eating from the garden doesn’t only have to be limited to March-October. Michelle Obama is in a perfect position to show us that local food is possible outside of the summer months, no matter where you live. She can bring the country’s attention to the creative ways that people like Eliot Coleman and Will Allen manage to grow food in all four seasons. Read more

Yesterday the White House released a video featuring First Lady Michelle Obama and assistant chef and food initiative coordinator Sam Kass telling the story of the White House garden. The video is around seven minutes long, and features footage of the building of the garden, with Kass giving details about the history of gardening at the White House (there is even some historical footage from “Victory Gardens” a 1944 government film to encourage people to grow at home, which you watch in full here), soil amendments, the seeds from Thomas Jefferson’s Montecello garden, and even a time lapse video as the garden was growing.

This short film also features the Bancroft Elementary students who helped to plant it. “We wanted the focus to be on kids,” the First Lady said, “because you can affect children’s behavior so much more easily than you can adults.” She also said that the garden was largely about setting an example for other families through changing her own family’s diet, specifically through “eliminating processed and sugary foods,” and encouraging eating together around the table. She continued, “the garden is really an important introduction to what I hope will be a new way that our country thinks about food” Read more

When the news broke that First Lady Michelle Obama was putting in a vegetable garden on the White House lawn in March, I couldn’t help but wonder if it would be the most powerful “soft” policy position on food this presidency could take in the first 100 days. In just planting a garden, she not only might have begun to change our view of vegetables , while inspiring Americans to grow some of their own food and save a little money in this time of economic crisis, but she also might have gracefully encouraged us to diversify our diets — the basis for good health, and by extension, a healthier agriculture system. For this alone, she gets an “A” on her contribution to the administration’s agriculture policy in the first 100 days.

President Obama, on the other hand, entered his role with a stack of urgent crises on his desk. Food advocates couldn’t help but have lowered expectations of how he would address the decline of farming and of rural populations; lobbyists working in the USDA, FDA and EPA; the quality of school lunch; the 36 million Americans suffering from hunger; energy independence beyond the empty promise of ethanol, and more. The real food lobby has gotten used to these vital issues taking a back seat, but that didn’t mean they were going to stop asking our young, hip and multitasking president to change all that. Read more