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First lady, Vilsack help plant White House garden

WASHINGTON -- While helping first lady Michelle Obama plant a White House fruit and vegetable garden April 9, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said it is his job to "make sure" that there is enough money in the school lunch program so that child...

WASHINGTON -- While helping first lady Michelle Obama plant a White House fruit and vegetable garden April 9, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said it is his job to "make sure" that there is enough money in the school lunch program so that children get fruits and vegetables in their daily diets.

Vilsack noted that after Michelle Obama earlier broke ground for the garden, seed sales went up. Obama also noted that this is the first White House fruit and vegetable garden to be plant since Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt planted a victory garden in the 1940s. At that time, Americans were encouraged to grow their own food because commercially raised food was needed to feed troops during World War II.

Obama said the cost of seeds and small plants for the garden was less than $200 and that it will raise enough food to feed the first family, supply some food for White House official dinners and also provide supplies for Miriam's Kitchen, a soup kitchen near the White House.

Sending a message

But when Agweek asked Vilsack if Americans should plant gardens to save money during the recession, Vilsack said they should plant gardens because "it's a real opportunity to reconnect with the land" and because young people would get exercise and fight obesity.

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Vilsack also used the opportunity to teach the Washington children that growing food is hard work. When one boy said that planting had made his back hurt, Vilsack told him that he should imagine how much work is required to grow the food that he eats.

"It educates them how difficult food production is," Vilsack said.

The planting ceremony was a grand White House event, with Obama helping children plant the crops. Obama noted that on her recent trip to Europe with her husband that the "No. 1 question" she got was about the garden.

"Every single person, from Prince Charles on down, they were excited about the fact that we were planting a garden, because in many countries they really believe in the importance of planting and growing your own food," she said.

According to a White House fact sheet,the garden measures approximately 1,100 square feet. It is on west side of the South Lawn and will be visible to tourists from outside the White House fence. The soil was tested and was found to be in good shape, including trace elements. Amendments have been made to enrich the soil and rock dusts of lime, green sand, crab meal sourced from the Chesapeake Bay and White House compost have been added to improve the macro- and micronutrient balance. Only organic fertilizers and insect repellants will be used and lady bugs and praying mantises will be introduced to naturally control other insect populations.

Assistant White House chef Sam Kass noted that a White House carpenter who raises bees has set up hives nearby for pollination purposes. A news release from the USDA Agricultural Research Service also noted that in July, USDA will be providing two types of parasite-resistant honeybees developed by USDA scientists to pollinate the plants in the new White House garden this summer. Both of these bees are rapidly gaining in popularity with beekeepers.

The White House said the four-season herb, fruit and vegetable garden will feature 25 varieties of heirloom seeds.

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