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Published April 09, 2012, 10:37 AM

First lady plants potatoes

WASHINGTON — Planting her fourth White House kitchen garden, first lady Michelle Obama personally cut up several varieties of seed potatoes March 26 as reporters watched.

By: Jerry Hagstrom, Agweek

WASHINGTON — Planting her fourth White House kitchen garden, first lady Michelle Obama personally cut up several varieties of seed potatoes March 26 as reporters watched.

The first lady’s role in planting the potatoes is remarkable because the Obama administration attempted to implement a rule that would have reduced the amount of white potatoes served in the school meal program on the grounds that children should eat a broader variety of vegetables. After Congress passed a law forbidding the Agriculture Department to restrict the use of potatoes in schools, USDA was forced to rewrite the potato provision before the final rule was issued.

Welcoming groups of children from Washington, D.C., New York, Iowa, Pennsylvania and North Carolina to the south lawn of the White House, Obama noted that the students from outside Washington “wrote some really nice letters telling us about stories of the work that you’re doing in your schools, in your communities. And your letters were so wonderful, I thought, why not come and see me at the White House and help me plant my garden?”

She also noted that the garden is part of her “Let’s Move” campaign to encourage healthy eating and exercise.

“The garden is a good way to start the conversation, because vegetables and fruits are a big part of a healthy diet,” she said.

“And a lot of times when you grow your own vegetables and fruits, they taste really good. They taste better than a lot of stuff you’ll get in a grocery store — trust me. My kids have done it.”

The first lady did not mention potatoes in her remarks, but at the direction of Sam Kass, White House deputy chef, went directly to the potato section of the garden to help the Girl Scouts who were working there. Taking five different types of potatoes from net bags, the first lady cut the potatoes in half and handed them to the girls, who planted and watered them. Signs said the potatoes were the following varieties: Sangre, Purple Peruvian Fingerlings, Mountain Rose, Red Thumb and Canola Russet.

A spokeswoman for the first lady said that her participation in the potato planting, which was located in the first row of the garden directly in front of reporters, should not be interpreted as a political statement.

“I wouldn’t read into her cutting up potatoes,” the spokeswoman said. “I think we’ve always had potatoes.”

Peter Hatch, a gardener at Monticello, Thomas Jefferson’s home, who advises the White House on the kitchen garden, said that the potatoes were the only “New World” vegetable planted at this time of year.

The National Potato Council, which bitterly fought the administration’s rule, said it was thrilled the first lady had planted potatoes.

John Keeling, NPC executive vice president and CEO, Keeling issued a statement.

“America’s potato growers are excited the first lady is helping educate children that healthy eating includes nutrient-rich potatoes,” Keeling said. “Connecting kids with the food they eat is an important goal of the ‘Let’s Move’ initiative, and we’re pleased that the White House kitchen garden is teaching children how seed potatoes grow into one their most loved vegetables.

“In addition, the wide variety of potatoes planted today demonstrates that these are exciting times for consumers who are looking to eat more veggies, including the new types of potatoes that share the produce aisle alongside old favorites,” Keeling said.