‘American Grown:’ In the Garden With Michelle Obama

We’re thrilled to introduce First Lady Michelle Obama’s American Grown as our book of the month for June. The book beautifully captures the first three years of Mrs. Obama’s White House Kitchen Garden, which has fed everyone from visiting heads of state to the homeless in the Washington D.C. area and has been used as a hands-on tool to teach schoolchildren about gardening and healthy eating. One of Mrs. Obama’s goals for the garden was to start a conversation about healthy lifestyles, so we’ll be doing just that by highlighting more great books about gardening and fresh, in-season eating all month long.

In this excerpt from the book, Mrs. Obama explains how she was as nervous as any new gardener when she embarked on the project. As a bonus, we have a delicious recipe for Buttermilk Blueberry Bundt Cake from the White House Kitchen.

On March 20, 2009, I was like any other hopeful gardener with a pot out on the windowsill or a small plot by the back door. I was nervously watching the sky. Would it freeze? Would it snow? Would it rain? I had spent two months settling into a new house in a new city. My girls had started a new school; my husband, a new job. My mother had just moved in upstairs. And now I was embarking on something I had never attempted before: starting a garden.

But this was not going to be just any garden—it would be a very public garden. Cameras would be trained on its beds, and questions would be asked about what we had planted and why we had planted it. The garden was also being planted on a historic landscape: the South Lawn of the White House. Here even the tomatoes and beans would have a view of the towering Washington Monument.

When I first arrived in Washington, I wasn’t even sure that we could plant a garden. I didn’t know whether we would be allowed to change the landscaping on the White House grounds, or whether the soil would be fertile enough, or whether there would be enough sunlight. And I had hardly any gardening experience, so I didn’t even really know how to go about planting a garden in the first place. But one thing I did know was that I wanted this garden to be more than just a plot of land growing vegetables on the White House lawn. I wanted it to be the starting point for something bigger. As both a mother and a first lady, I was alarmed by reports of skyrocketing childhood obesity rates and the dire consequences for our children’s health. And I hoped this garden would help begin a conversation about this issue—a conversation about the food we eat, the lives we lead, and how all of that affects our children…

And over the past three years, our White House Kitchen Garden has bloomed into so much more. It’s helped us start a new conversation about the food we eat and how it affects our children’s health. It’s helped us raise awareness about our crisis of childhood obesity and the threat it poses to our children’s future. And it led to the creation of Let’s Move!, a nationwide initiative to solve this problem so our children can grow up healthy.

This book tells that story. In it you’ll learn about how we designed and planted our garden and all the children, volunteers, and staff members who plant, tend, and harvest it. We also provide tips on how to start your own garden and how to prepare and store the fruits and vegetables you grow and buy. And we include original recipes from the White House chefs to help you put them to good use preparing fresh, delicious meals and snacks for yourself and your family.

But the purpose of this book is not simply to share our own story. Our White House Kitchen Garden is just one of thousands of gardens across this country, each with a story worth telling. In my hometown of Chicago, there’s a World War II victory garden that still blooms today. In Houston, Texas, there’s a garden adjacent to a downtown building where office workers tend to okra, squash, and tomatoes planted in containers on the concrete sidewalk. Teachers, parents, and students have started school gardens. Neighborhood gardeners are growing crops for local food banks. And people from all walks of life and every sector of our society are coming together and using gardens—and the food they grow and lessons they teach—to build a healthier future for our children.

It is my hope that our garden’s story—and the stories of gardens across America—will inspire families, schools, and communities to try their own hand at gardening and enjoy all the gifts of health, discovery, and connection a garden can bring.

All across this great country of ours, something truly special is taking root. And that is the story I want to tell in this book: the story of how, together, in gardens large and small, we have begun to grow a healthier nation.

Blueberry Bundt Cake Recipe from the White House KitchenSummer is blueberry season! Try this Buttermilk Blueberry Bundt Cake recipe from the White House Kitchen.

We have a competition with the birds on the South Lawn to see who will get to the blueberries first; they are worthy adversaries. In the garden’s second year, we built a frame covered in a light mesh over the blueberry bushes to allow water and sunlight to get in but keep the birds out. They still found a way into the little fortress and were able to snatch berries by the beakful.

The blueberries make purple spots throughout the cake and the acidity of the buttermilk contributes to the fine texture of the crumb. If the birds eat all of your blueberries too, you can make this cake with other summer fruits like raspberries, blackberries, or peaches. –Chef Bill

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature, plus additional for greasing the pan
2 2/3 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon baking soda
1 ¾ cups sugar
4 large eggs, at room temperature
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
½ cup buttermilk
2 pints blueberries, washed and dried

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Grease or spray with cooking spray a 5-quart Bundt pan.

2. Sift the flour, baking powder, salt, and baking soda into a medium bowl.

3. In the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter and sugar until fluffy and soft.

4. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Add the vanilla and beat to combine. With the mixer set on low speed, add the flour mixture and buttermilk alternately to the butter mixture. Scrape down the sides between additions.

5. Remove the bowl from the mixer and gently fold in the berries. Scrape the batter into the prepared Bundt pan.

6. Bake for 55 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted near the center of the cake comes out clean. Cool the cake in the pan for at least 20 minutes and then turn out onto a rack to cool completely.

—Cake photo by Quentin Bacon Photography

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