Michelle Obama's plans for a White House kitchen garden began well before her husband became president.
"I first had the idea to plant a vegetable garden at the White House in my kitchen back in Chicago," she writes in her new book, "American Grown: The Story of the White House Kitchen Garden and Gardens Across America." "It was early in the presidential primary season -- the Iowa caucuses hadn't even happened yet."
"In recent years, I had been thinking a great deal about how the food my family ate affected our health. And as I was putting dinner not he table that night I thought to myself that if something amazing happened, if my husband -- then very much the underdog in the race -- actually won, then as first lady I might want to focus on this issue more broadly," she writes. "That night, it occurred to me that planting a garden at the White House -- a garden where children could learn about growing and preparing fresh, nutritious food -- could be one small way to get started."
The garden dream became a reality in April 2009, when she and 23 fifth graders from a Washington, D.C., elementary school broke ground on the White House's famed South Lawn. That year, the 1,100-square-foot garden produced 740 pounds of food. Since then, the garden has provided more than 3,000 pounds of fresh food, much of which is served at the White House (about a third of it is donated to Miriam's kitchen, a Washington, D.C.-based organization that provides healthy meals and social services to the city's homeless.)
"American Grown" is part reference book, part history book, part how-to, and part cookbook. Divided into four parts -- Spring, Summer, Fall, and Winter -- the book offers information about different types of vegetables, tips on creating a garden of your own, plenty of photos and plot plans, and several easy, healthy recipes to try at home. The first lady also describes how the White House garden has grown and changed over the years, and delves into the history of victory, school, and kitchen gardens in the United States.
The first White House garden was planted by John Adams, the second president of the United States and the first to live in the then-newly built White House. He only lived there through the winter of 1800; when he lost his bid for re-election, his garden went unharvested. But his successor, Thomas Jefferson, picked up where Adams left off. He grew produce in pots placed in the windows of the White House and, while he never planted a full garden on the grounds, he cultivated seeds and plants at Monticello, his home in Virginia. Two centuries later, several of Jefferson's favorite plants flourish in the garden Mrs. Obama planted.
The garden was a starting point for the first lady's "Let's Move!" initiative against childhood obesity, and so her book also touches on the importance of exercise, proper nutrition, and making healthy choices at home and at school. The book also features profiles of community gardens in several states, describes the differences between school gardens and children's gardens, and offers instructions on when to plant different types of vegetables -- including which kinds can work well in a winter garden.
"It's been an amazing experience," chef Sam Kass told Yahoo! Shine during a visit to the garden in October 2011. (Kass is part of the Kitchen Garden Team and a senior advisor to "Let's Move!") "It's the first time that there's been a garden here that's really grown a lot of food since the late 1890s."
"American Grown" offers several suggestions on what to do with all of the fabulous local food you produce in your own garden. This white bean salad, Chef Kass says, takes advantage of the goodness of the very first of the harvest.
White Bean Salad
Serves 6 to 8 as a starter
1 15-ounce can (or 1 cup dried) small white beans, such as cannelloni
1 clove garlic
1 bay leaf
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon mild honey
1 tablespoon chopped shallots
1 cup snow peas or sugar snap peas
1/2 bunch fresh chives, chopped
5 mild radishes, thinly sliced
3 tablespoons chopped fresh basil
Rinse and pick over the dried beans, then place them in a bowl and soak them in cold water for 8 hours or overnight. Drain and place in pot with garlic and bay leaf, and enough water to cover the beans by at least 1 inch; bring to a boil, reduce heat, cover, and simmer, stirring occasionally, until the beans are tender (about 1 hour).
In a small bowl, combine the olive oil, lemon zest, lemon juice, honey, and shallot to make a dressing.
When the beans are done, drain them well and discard the garlic and bay leaf. If using canned beans, drain and rise them well. Toss the beans with about 1/3 of the dressing.
In a small pot of boiling water, cook the snow peas or sugar snap peas for about one minute. Remove them using a slotted spoon, and transfer them to a bowl of ice water. Drain, pat dry, and slice them thinly.
In a large salad bowl, combine the cooled beans, snow peas, chives, radishes, and basil. Pour the remaining dressing over and toss lightly. Serve immediately.
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Also on Shine:
Health lessons from Michelle Obama's White House garden
Michelle Obama's advice for kids: On friends, role models, playing sports, and more
Schools offering better lunch options