Thursday, 23 August 2012
"American Grown" and Michelle Obama
First lady Michelle Obama’s agenda for gardening also involves a war – a war on childhood obesity and the lack of access to healthy and affordable food for all. It’s the subject of her first garden book, “American Grown: The Story of the White House Kitchen Garden and Gardens Across America” (Crown; 2012).
In 2009, Obama, with the help of the National Park Service, White House staff and local Washington, D.C. students, broke ground on the first edible garden on the grounds since Roosevelt’s Victory Garden. The 1,100-square-foot garden produces food for family meals, state dinners and gifts for visitors.
In the book’s introduction, Obama reflects on her own active childhood and how a generational shift toward a more sedentary lifestyle inspired her to change the way she fed her family. Chapters on the seasons follow, beginning with spring and the history of White House gardens and those who contributed. This chapter also covers planning, plantings and people who maintain the garden and prepare the bounty. It’s the only chapter that offers significant gardening advice on topics such as soil amendments, composting, climate and pests, but it will appear perfunctory to any experienced gardener.
The remaining chapters – summer, fall and winter – revolve around themes such as growing community, sharing the harvest and building foundations, and more emphasis is placed on the programs and initiatives that the garden inspires than the garden itself. This is the heart of the book, and it’s obvious that Obama’s objective is spreading the word about these efforts, not growing tomatoes. Profiles, including one on urban farmer Will Allen and his organization, Growing Power, a multigenerational and multicultural program with 20 farms and 70 programs, are uplifting.
The back of the book contains somewhat simple and straightforward recipes from White House chefs featuring produce from each season with corresponding growing tips. I tested the Buttermilk Blueberry Bundt Cake and can vouch for its accuracy and deliciousness. A resource guide is helpful for gathering further information on Obama’s pet project, Let’s Move!, and other important health and gardening nonprofits. All proceeds from the book will go to the National Park Foundation, the official charity of America’s national parks.
Though inspiring, “American Grown” will not replace your well-worn gardening manual. Even if it doesn’t make it past the coffee table or bedside nook, Obama’s book is a good reminder that a garden can grow a movement as well as food.