WASHINGTON — First lady Michelle Obama planted the first fruit and vegetable seedlings in the new White House garden Thursday, assisted by a group of eager fifth-graders who tend to a similar garden at their school.
An advocate of eating fresh and healthy food, she could be enjoying salads made with lettuce from the garden in about two weeks.
Spinach, assorted types of lettuce, herbs, onions, shallots, cucumbers and peas are among the crops planted Thursday. Tomatoes are to follow in about three weeks. Honey will come from a beehive a short distance away from the 1,100-square-foot, L-shaped plot on the South Lawn.
Before they got their hands dirty, Mrs. Obama encouraged the Bancroft Elementary School students to eat more fruits and vegetables and to eat them regularly. She said she learned about that as a mother trying to feed her daughters, 10-year-old Malia and 7-year-old Sasha.
"It does have nutrients, it does make you strong, it is all brain food," she said.
Mrs. Obama said she kept getting asked about the garden while in Europe last week, even by Prince Charles. The prince is an avid gardener who has said people need only a window box to start growing their own food.
"In many countries they really believe in the importance of planting and growing their own food," Mrs. Obama told the fifth-graders, who helped her and White House staff break ground for the garden last month.
She said the garden was "real inexpensive," no more than $200, and would yield "a ton of stuff."
"We can produce enough fruits and vegetables to feed us for years and years to come, for just a couple of hundred dollars," she said.
Some of the crops will be served to the Obamas and to White House staff and guests. Some will be donated to a local soup kitchen. The students are to return to the White House around the end of the school year for the larger harvest, and to help cook some of the food.
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack urged them to spread the message at school that it's cool to eat healthy meals.
Mrs. Obama put on a pair of brown gardening gloves, got down on her knees and teamed with students Michelle Pisqui and Santana Holmes to plant neat rows of dill, oregano and rosemary. Vilsack and his student helpers worked on sorrel, collard greens and kale.
The work lasted about 40 minutes. Mrs. Obama quipped afterward that it was "easier than ripping the grass up" last month.
Assistant White House chef Sam Kass said the lettuces could be ready in the next week or two, along with spinach and herbs.
The garden also has a section devoted to Thomas Jefferson, including specific kinds of lettuces, spinach and cabbage. Kass said he visited Monticello, Jefferson's home in Charlottesville, Va., last weekend for inspiration.
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