The White House Kitchen Garden: feeding the homeless & inspiring sustainability (PHOTOS)

The largest vegetable garden in White House history is a green & beautiful model for sustainable, healthy living. Take a peek at all the history among its produce.

White House chefs and kitchen staff work in the Kitchen Garden located on the South Lawn of the White House. Brooks Kraft | Getty Images

Though plans for the first White House garden began with President George Washington, nothing has quite compared to the breadth and scope of the visionary White House Kitchen Garden dedicated just last week. In a move echoing First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt’s World War II Victory Garden, the modern-day produce-bearing garden that grows on the South Lawn of the White House property was planted under First Lady Michelle Obama’s leadership in 2009. It is the largest vegetable garden in White House history. The recent dedication came in part to continue America’s conversation on healthy, wholesome food and also announce how the garden will thrive under future presidents.

Today the garden feeds the First Family, White House guests, and even local Washingtonians (through a local nonprofit that delivers some of the veggies to D.C.’s homeless population), but it’s really a gift to Americans everywhere. It’s a reminder that every community has a responsibility to put fresh and smartly sourced produce within reach for all of its residents. That sort of mentality is what will help us raise healthy, fed American children, whether they’re rich or poor, black or white, city-dwelling or suburban. We don’t just need flourishing gardens during wartime; we need them year-round to help hungry families, and to nourish healthy, sustainable habits in our communities.

The White House Kitchen Garden, Washington D.C. Aon | Flickr
The White House Kitchen Garden, Washington D.C. Aon | Flickr
White House Executive Pastry Chef, Susie Morrison, was on hand in the White House Kitchen Garden on the South Lawn of the White House. NurPhoto | Getty Images
The White House Kitchen Garden on the South Lawn of the White House. NurPhoto | Getty Images
Planting rhubarb in the White House kitchen garden in Washington. Brooks Kraft | Getty Images

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Here are five things about this little Eden that we admire:

1. Though it’s a new idea, it’s full of tradition

One of the most incredible things about this garden is how it weaves the roots of American history into its story. President John Adams and First Lady Abigail Adams started farming the first White House vegetable garden (George Washington never actually had a chance to live in the White House, he just drew up the plans for one) so they wouldn’t have to buy produce. Today, the White House Kitchen Garden proudly uses heirloom seeds from Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello and you’ll even find nods to past presidents’ favorite veggies, too. (In case you’re curious, ol’ T.J. really liked Brown Dutch and Tennis Ball lettuce, Prickly Seed spinach, and Savoy cabbage.)

2. It’s eco-friendly & sustainable

The White House Kitchen Garden is all organic, with a wealth of organic varieties planted and tended to using organic methods. But that’s not all. The garden is also big on beekeeping, thanks to the hobby of White House carpenter Charlie Brandt taking off under the Obama administration. White House honey is made on-site in a beehive located on the South Lawn and overseen by Brandt, the White House’s first-ever official beekeeper. Apart from the work of busy bees, the White House Kitchen Garden stays sustainable due to a composting system and a pollinator garden.

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3. The garden benefits the local community

It’s not just the White House’s many prestigious guests who enjoy its yield. People throughout Washington, D.C. and its surrounding suburbs partake of its tasty and educational offerings, too. One-third of the produce grown at the White House Kitchen Garden goes directly to feed the homeless through a partnership with the D.C. nonprofit, Miriam’s Kitchen. The garden also prompted the founding of a White House farmers’ market. While the market doesn’t sell produce from the White House Kitchen Garden, it does welcome regional farmers and provide accessible options for low-income shoppers who might not have fresh produce where they live. (Sadly, food deserts are a major problem in some parts of Washington, D.C.)

4. It’s absolutely stunning!

The White House Kitchen Garden is never truly dormant, so it always looks good! That means that even in the wintertime, it’s producing delicious, fresh food, such as chard and collards, and it’s never sad and brown. Strategic planning has allowed hardy crops to grow when it’s cold, proving to the American public that it’s possible to have fresh food almost regardless of your climate. And when it’s warm out, the garden is full of color and is highly productive. Now that’s really beautiful!

5. The garden is meant for the American people

You—yes, you—can visit the garden, at least in theory. If you’re attached to a school or community group that’s itching to learn more about healthy, sustainable gardening, then you may be eligible for a free tour of this botanical gem. Ready to get your green thumb on? Then find out details and apply on the White House website.

The White House Kitchen Garden is just one of the country’s many historic treasures that has been christened with a new and beautiful purpose. We hope it will live on to feed, educate, and inspire many more generations of Americans to come.

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