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Nation’s students help First Lady pick final harvest

By Courtney Davis, Howard University News Service
On October 13, 2016

President Barack Obama made a surprise visit to the White House Kitchen Garden on the South Lawn of the White House. First Lady Michelle Obama invited school children for her final fall harvest. | Photo by Cheriss May, Howard University News Service

First Lady Michelle Obama, surrounded by 20 kids from across the nation she had invited to help her with her final harvest, made one thing crystal clear – she wants the elaborate “Kitchen Garden” she established to promote better eating to remain long after she and President Barack Obama have left the White House. 

To that end, Obama announced last week a $2.5 million donation by the Burpee Foundation to preserve and care for the garden for at least 17 more years.

The children dug and picked vegetables to help her with her harvest and to literally enjoy the fruits of their labor as they later ate some of the food they picked.

“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,” Obama said at the dedication ceremony, “and as we dedicate this garden here today, I am hopeful that the future first families will cherish the garden like we have, and that it will become one of our enduring White House traditions.”

Updates to the garden include bluestone walkways, a wooden arbor, tables and benches and 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.”

The tables, benches and arbor were designed by students at the University of Virginia’s School of Architecture with salvaged wood from the estates of former presidents Thomas Jefferson, James Madison and James Monroe and Civil Rights leader the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. Originally spanning 1,100 square feet, the garden has expanding to more than twice that size.

The changes and donation are a part of Obama’s efforts to ensure future first families get an opportunity to enjoy the garden.

The garden was the beginning of Obama’s “Let’s Move!” initiative, a campaign to get children across the nation healthier by being active and making healthier food choices.

Along with the children participating in the harvest were a few celebrities, including “TODAY SHOW” Al Roker, Grammy Award-winning singer Ashanti, seven-time NBA All-Star Alonzo Mourning, astronaut Kjell Lindgren and “Sesame Street’s” Elmo and Rosita. President Barack Obama also briefly came out to greet the children and encourage their healthy eating habits.

Michelle Obama said she wanted two students from Flint, Michigan, to attend the final harvest to reinforce the concept that good nutrition can reduce the effects of exposure to lead contaminated water. So, fourth grader A’layia Howard and fifth grader Xavier Purches from Freeman Elementary School were among the students.

Freeman Elementary School is a part of the “Let’s Move! Salad Bars to Schools” program, an initiative that donates salad bars to schools so children across the nation have daily access to fresh fruits and vegetables. 

Fifth grader Xavier Purches of Freeman Elementary School
in Flint, Michigan was invited by the First Lady to reinforce
the notion that good nutrition can reduce the effects of
lead contaminated water.
Photo by Cheriss May, Howard University News Service

Freeman fifth grade teacher Kathy Savoie said she could see A’layia and Xavier were sleepy from their 5 a.m. flight, but the kids perked up after eating pizza made with vegetables they harvested. Excited and appreciative, A’layia showed off a cartwheel and full split for the first lady.

Savoie said the countdown to the visit was exhilarating for the students.

“We would meet at lunch and we would talk about what we were going to do, what was going to happen and maybe some questions they might get asked, just to make them feel more comfortable,” said Savoie.

“And every day they would go down the hall and say, ‘Three more days, two more days.’”

The trip to the White House was the first time the students have been out of state or on an airplane she said.

Obama gave the children hugs and a motherly send off when the garden pizza was finished and the harvest finally over.

“Be good and make me proud.” 

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