Alice Waters, the culinary impresario from Berkeley, California's Chez Panisse, must be a very happy woman. She's done what few chefs before her have managed: influenced the president of the United States.
(AP Photo/Ron Edmonds)
Waters, a cheerleader for the organic food movement, has been pushing the Obamas for months to embrace locally grown fruits and vegetables. In fact, she urged the first family to think very locally.
In an open letter, Waters wrote, "I cannot forget the vision I have had since 1993 of a beautiful vegetable garden on the White House lawn. It would demonstrate to the nation and to the world our priority of stewardship of the land—a true victory garden!"
Today, Waters' vision becomes a reality. White House grounds crew and kitchen staff will clear a 1,100-square-foot patch of land on the South Lawn to grow goodies like Thai basil, hot peppers, collard greens, spinach, and berries, The New York Times reports. There will even be space for two bee hives, which will be used to make honey.
White House staff will have help breaking ground for the garden: Fifth graders from Mount Pleasant's Bancroft Elementary School have been enlisted to lend a hand with the digging. And the first family will do gardening stints. Michelle Obama promised the Times that being "leader of the free world" won't excuse her husband from weeding.
Though the vegetables and fruits will be used by White House cooks, the first lady believes the garden will have an important symbolic role. She wants to encourage American families to think about healthy eating as a way to curb obesity and other diseases brought on by poor diet.
"My hope is that through children, they will begin to educate their families and that will, in turn, begin to educate our communities," she told the Times.
In addition to dietary advantages, advocates for locally grown produce point to its environmental benefits. Organic foods don't rely on chemically based fertilizers. Moreover, by producing food locally, families leave a smaller carbon footprint because not as much oil is used up in transporting goods.
There is a historical precedent for a White House garden. First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt planted a victory garden during the height of World War II.
You can see more of Alice Waters from her interview this past week on 60 Minutes below:
Update 5pm: Mrs. Obama was joined by twenty-six students this afternoon, as she broke ground for the White House kitchen garden.
The group readied the soil to plant mint, corn and squash and beans as the First Lady explained that they will make their own honey.
The students will return in June, to harvest the vegetables and cook with the White House chef.
Mrs. Obama joked that this was a move to get her daughters to eat more vegetables. She then led the group in a cheer: "let's hear it for vegetables...let's hear it for fruits".
One student booed at the cheer and the First Lady threatened to take away the cookies they munched on.