I don’t think I need any disclosure here. I’m a big Michelle O fan. Years ago, I went on record inviting her to be my gardening girlfriend. So haters, be hatin’ elsewhere. Because Michelle has a new gardening book out and it’s wonderful. It’s called American Grown: The Story of the White House Kitchen Garden and Gardens Across America. Let me tell you why you should run out and buy it right this minute. Even if you have a full shelf of gardening books. Even if the only gardening you do is an occasional trip to the Farmer’s Market. And even if you didn’t vote for her husband. Fair warning, it’s going to be on my Christmas list for almost everyone I know.
First reason, Michelle Obama received no advance payment for the book and is donating all her proceeds to the National Park Foundation for programs that promote gardening, healthy eating and to help care for the White House garden.
But the main reason to buy: it’s a fascinating and well-written book that is about so much more than gardening. It’s got history, memoir, gardening tips, humor, recipes and so much more. I would have been happy if the book had only covered how Michelle’s White House vegetable garden came into being. But she goes back in time and covers the history of gardens and gardening at the White House and by Presidents since Washington’s time. And she’s laid out several beds at her garden in honor of master gardener Thomas Jefferson planting them with heirloom vegetables from Jefferson’s Monticello gardens. She sprinkles her narrative with fascinating Presidential gardening trivia and history. These range from the quirky (Jefferson was fixated on growing a four foot cucumber) to the more important, such a big tip of the hat for the underappreciated Lady Bird Johnson who was one of our first and most vocal advocates for protecting native plants.
Then Michelle (and I hope I may call her Michelle) extends her scope to talk about gardening across America both in the past and currently. Did you know that, during WWII, when Americans were urged to save the food supply for soldiers overseas by planting Victory Gardens, the number one gardening city was Chicago? Yup, the Second City turned out and tilled what may have been every available plot of earth to win the Victory Garden production race. The book is also chock full of contemporary gardening heroes who are changing lives, building community and affecting health through community gardens. Read through their stories and you’ll not only feel good, you’ll get some great tips about how to effect these solutions in your community.
This book is also a mother’s journey back to healthy food. Michelle tells how her family, like many families, started with a close connection to locally-grown produce (her father worked as a boy on a fruit and vegetable truck.) But that connection was severed some time in the Sixties as her parents increasingly relied on large grocery chains and canned goods for faster, cheaper meals. Michelle speaks movingly about how gardening has changed the relationship with food for her, her children and the children who volunteer in the White House garden. Still, she hasn’t gotten Barack to eat his beets. He’s famously banned them from the garden. [Michelle! Call me. I got an Englishman to eat beets. I’ll share my secrets. Two words: goat cheese.]
Did I mention there are also some great recipes? (Although proponents of the “Barack is a secret Muslim” theory will be shocked to see his favorite recipe for braised pork shoulder.)
So buy this book. Learn some gardening tips. Discover some history. Meet some heroes. And help the National Park Foundation.
And Michelle, call me about those beets!