WASHINGTON — First lady Michelle Obama’s signature White House project is her kitchen garden, and on Wednesday, she unveiled her plan for it to live on, making it harder for a President Trump or any other president to replace it with sod.
With not much time left in the White House, a sentimental Obama presided over what amounted to a sendoff ceremony for her legacy garden, newly tethered to the South Lawn with much more than plants.
Obama added facts on the ground — an arbor, benches, a table and walkways, wood-and-steel structures raising the difficulty factor for any future president who would dare even consider plowing up her garden.
And for more insurance, Obama’s garden now has a historic marker. It is made of bluestone and placed under the arbor. The inscription says, “WHITE HOUSE KITCHEN GARDEN established in 2009 by First Lady Michelle Obama with the hope of growing a healthier nation for our children.”
To insulate the garden from future Capitol Hill budget-cutters, Obama lined up a $2.5 million donation from the Burpee Foundation and the W. Atlee Burpee Company to the National Park Foundation. The seed company contribution will help pay for the National Park Service garden upkeep.
The final Obama harvest is on Thursday, with schoolchildren helping pick the veggies, an assortment that includes tomatoes, peppers, beans, lettuce and carrots.
On Wednesday, Obama hosted a formal dedication for her upgraded garden. “It’s kind of an emotional moment,” she said.
“We’re having a lot of these emotional moments because everything is the last. But this is particularly my baby because this garden is where it all started. So we’re really coming full circle back to the very beginning,” Obama said.
Obama originally planted her garden on April 9, 2009, in her first year at the White House. At the time, she was recovering from a very rough image-battering 2008 campaign and slowly putting together her “first lady” agenda.
The garden turned out to be the vehicle for Obama to reframe her image and define and build her brand as a crusader for healthy eating and exercise.
By February 2010, the garden evolved into her “Let’s Move!” White House campaign against childhood obesity and the Partnership for a Healthier America, the not-for-profit foundation she created to support what is her most famous initiative.
Obama told a backstory about the garden.
On Wednesday, she recalled conversations she had with Sam Kass, then the Obama family chef, who grew up near the Obama home at 5046 S. Greenwood Ave. “And it’s been a nice ride from the kitchen on Greenwood where we talked about this vision to now,” she said, with Kass in the audience.
Kass went on to become a White House chef and eventually became a senior policy adviser for nutrition policy, directing “Let’s Move!” for a time.
Back to the backstory:
“As you all know, this idea of the garden was actually born, as I said, months before Barack even came into office, in our family’s kitchen before we even set foot here. It was back then when Barack was first running, and we were — Sam and I sitting at the table, Chicago one night trying to wrap my head around what we’d actually do if my husband managed to win. There were the questions of what kind of First Lady I would be, what issues would I focus on. Those were the questions that were being pounded on me through the campaign.
“. . . So I had this crazy idea that what if we planted a garden on the White House lawn to start a conversation about where our food comes from and how it impacts our children’s health.
“Well, fast-forward to spring of 2009 — Barack actually won; he won twice. And we finally got settled in. Girls were in school. We knew which doors went to which rooms, and that’s when we decided to move forward on this idea of planting a garden.”
Her garden inspired scores of others.
“There is now an aeroponic garden at O’Hare Airport in my hometown of Chicago. I got to go see that,” she said.
I bet that when the Obama Center rises in Jackson Park in Chicago there will be a kitchen garden in its footprint and Michelle Obama will be there for plantings with students in the spring, coming back for her harvest in the fall.
Said Obama: “I take pride in knowing that this garden will serve as a reminder of what we all started, but also what we all have left to do. And as we dedicate this garden here today, I am hopeful that future First Families will cherish this garden like we have, and that it will become one of our enduring White House traditions.”Tweets by @lynnsweet