There’s no actual memo, but first lady Michelle Obama is going all-out to make sure the White House kitchen garden that she created in 2009 and expanded twice doesn’t get plowed under by the next first family.
With less than four months left in the Obama administration, the first lady on Wednesday dedicated an expanded and improved garden with the hope that it will continue regardless of who takes office come January.
“This little garden will live on as a symbol of the hopes that we all hold of growing a healthier nation for our children,” Mrs. Obama told a crowd gathered at the garden to celebrate the dedication. “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.”
The garden’s size has grown from an original 1,100 square feet to 2,800 square feet. It has a new wooden arbor for an entrance, wider bluestone walkways, wooden tables and benches.
There’s even an inscribed stone that reads: “White House Kitchen Garden, established in 2009 by First Lady Michelle Obama with the hope of growing a healthier nation for our children.”
And, to bat away any pesky questions about how to pay for the garden, the first lady announced private donations of $2.5 million to maintain and preserve it.
This collection of raised beds is much more than a garden to Mrs. Obama: It’s her legacy, at the heart of her years-long quest to fight childhood obesity and promote healthier living.
Calling the garden “my baby,” Mrs. Obama said she’d first dreamed of it while sitting at her kitchen table in Chicago before her husband had even been elected.
School students will join the first lady on Thursday for the Obamas’ final fall harvest, bringing in eggplant, okra, tomatoes, herbs and much more. Then, in coming weeks, the beds will be covered with plastic hoop houses to allow vegetables such as broccoli, kale and collard greens to grow right through the winter — and into the next administration.
Much as the first lady wants to see the garden endure, the next first family can decide whether to keep it or go in a different direction.
Neither campaign responded to a request for comment on what a Trump or Clinton administration might do with the kitchen garden.
But it’s fair to speculate that it might be a higher priority for Clinton than Trump.
Clinton is known for eating lots of fruits and vegetables. Trump, not so much.
As first lady, Clinton directed chef Walter Scheib to bring “contemporary American cuisine and nutritionally responsible food to the White House,” Scheib later wrote. There was even a small garden on the White House roof for growing produce, according to Scheib, who died in 2015.
Trump, for his part, loves red meat and is proud to patronize McDonald’s and KFC.
What started for Mrs. Obama as a fairly simple kitchen garden in 2009 grew into her broader Let’s Move initiative to promote healthy eating and habits.
“This has truly become a movement and it certainly won’t end when I leave the White House because we’ve still got a long way to go before we solve this problem,” the first lady said, promising to keep working on the issue for the rest of her life.
Over the years, the garden has supplied fruits and vegetables for the first family, soup kitchens, guests at White House receptions and other events, even state dinners.
Students from around the country have helped with planting and harvesting, and 335,000 visitors have toured the garden over the years.
The garden updates were a joint endeavor of the National Park Service and the University of Virginia School of Architecture, whose students designed the new layout, arbor, table and benches.
The furniture speaks to the first lady’s vision of an enduring garden: It is made from reclaimed wood from Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello in Virginia, James and Dolley Madison’s Montpelier in Virginia and Martin Luther King Jr.’s home in Atlanta.
The Burpee Foundation and the W. Atlee Burpee Company contributed the $2.5 million to the National Park Foundation to ensure the garden is maintained.