The White House Kitchen Garden
4:07 P.M. EDT
MRS. OBAMA: Hello everyone, I am so — I’m beyond thrilled. I’m probably as emotional as everybody sitting in this garden to be here with you today as we officially dedicate our White House Kitchen Garden.
People look at my daughters, and they see how time has flown by. And then I look at Tammy. And I remember Tammy to the day because she — her face is the same, but you did absolutely grow. (Laughter.) And you've matured is what you've done. You have grown into such a poised, gracious young lady. And I know your mother is proud. It’s just been a complete honor to have you by my side on this project. So, Tammy, thank you. (Applause.)
Oh, my goodness. I also want to say a few huge thank yous to a few more people — to the folks from the Burpee Foundation and the W. Atlee Burpee Company for their generous support of the National Park Foundation to preserve this garden for the future. And I want to recognize the Whole Kids Foundation for making this day possible. And what a beautiful day it is. This has been the garden’s luck, right? It rained all week and we were on pins and needles that we’d have to do this inside. And this is a perfect day — a perfect day.
And of course, I want to thank all the students and the faculty at the University of Virginia School of Architecture who did such an incredible job in designing the magnificent new arbor, as well as the gathering area, the table, the benches that we’re unveiling here today. This is my first time seeing it. I was in the garden last week, and everything was being dug up. I’ve only seen pictures. But this, you all, is amazing. It is really amazing — the representation, the work, the fact that you guys are homegrown students in this area, it really just warms my heart. You should be incredibly proud of the work you've done.
And thanks to Roger Sherry for his craftsmanship in building all of this. He’s done a phenomenal job, and I just got to meet him today. It’s amazing. It’s amazing what you've done. It’s beautiful. It’s beyond anything I could have imagined. So thank you, Roger. (Applause.)
And, of course, to the National Park Service, the crew, the team for helping bring this vision to life from the very beginning. You guys — we almost cried. This has been a labor of absolute love. And you all have been down here with us every single day thinking about different ways to reinforce the beds, thinking about all the extras, coming down here when there have been wind storms and snow storms and hail storms, and making sure that things go well. It’s just been a true blessing to have you all. This garden wouldn’t exist if it weren’t for your efforts. So thank you all. (Applause.)
And I’m going to go a little bit off-script for some who have been following this program. There is a team that's behind all this Let’s Move! stuff. I come out, and I give a speech, or I dance with Ellen, or I do something else silly. (Laughter.) But behind Let’s Move! is a team. And most recently, it’s been run by our executive director, Deb Eschmeyer. (Applause.) And I want to thank Deb. Stand up, Deb. (Applause.)
All right, the words on the script say I want to thank her for her passion, dedication, expertise and vision, but Deb is off-the-charts enthusiastic. (Laughter.) I mean a Deb briefing is like, oh, my God, this is great. It’s going to be wonderful. (Laughter.) I don't know what to say. (Laughter.) Deb is enthusiastic, but she’s also experienced. She is not light on substance at all. She knows this stuff. And it’s just been a pleasure to work with you.
I know it’s been an adjustment coming to the White House, but you've done it seamlessly. And you've kept this initiative going in ways I could have only dreamed. So, Deb, thank you. I’m so proud of you. Well done. (Applause.)
And then there was my original partner in crime, old man Sam Kass. (Laughter.) Who is now a grownup, wearing a suit. I don't even recognize you. Sam, as all of you know, has been the driving force, the hammer, the carrot, the stick. He probably harassed many of you to the point of I don't know what — probably lost his temper a few times. I know he and Tina used to get into a lot. It would be fun to watch them argue. Sam coined the term “unprecedented!” Because everything Let’s Move! did was “unprecedented!” (Laughter.) To the point where we were like, okay, everything is not unprecedented. It became our code word. It was the word that we used to think of Sam. But Sam because of your unprecedented leadership, we are here today. And it’s been a nice ride from the kitchen on Greenwood where we talked about this vision to now. So don't cry. Not yet. But here it is, and a lot of this is because of you. So thank you, babe. (Applause.)
And then there are a whole host of staff members who have come and gone, who have — we’ve stolen people. We've left them. And to all the staff members who have helped make Let’s Move! a reality, I am just grateful to you all. You’ve done tremendous work.
But most of all, I want to thank all the leaders who are here, all of you who are here, all the leaders, the partners who’ve been with us from the very start. Through every struggle and success, you all are the reason we’re here today. And I am beyond grateful for everything you all have done to get us to this point.
And I have to tell you that being here with all of you, overlooking this beautiful garden — and it is beautiful — it’s kind of an emotional moment. We're having a lot of these emotional moments because everything is the last. But this is particularly my baby because this garden is where it all started. So we’re really coming full circle back to the very beginning.
As you all know, this idea of the garden was actually born, as I said, months before Barack even came into office, in our family’s kitchen before we even set foot here. It was back then when Barack was first running, and we were — Sam and I sitting at the table, Chicago one night trying to wrap my head around what we’d actually do if my husband managed to win. There were the questions of what kind of First Lady I would be, what issues would I focus on. Those were the questions that were being pounded on me through the campaign. A lot of times I wondered what in the world Barack was even getting us into.
And then after taking a few deep breaths, we started thinking about the challenges that many families faced, so many other families were facing the same things that we were, trying to raise healthy kids. And many of us didn’t understand the impact that the food we ate was having on our bodies, on our kids’ bodies, or how we felt. Like we just didn't have the right information, or we didn’t have the time that we needed to buy and prepare healthy food for our families.
So I had this crazy idea that what if we planted a garden on the White House lawn to start a conversation about where our food comes from and how it impacts our children’s health. Well, fast-forward to spring of 2009 — Barack actually won; he won twice. (Applause.) And we finally got settled in. Girls were in school. We knew which doors went to which rooms, and that's when we decided to move forward on this idea of planting a garden.
Now, at first there were folks who didn’t think this was such a great idea. There were those that wondered: Well, why is Michelle Obama tearing up the White House lawn?
And then there were plenty of folks who thought that the issue of childhood obesity was actually too “soft” — some said it was too “First Ladyish.” I guess for somebody like me.
Others had the opposite reaction. They thought this problem was much too large, much too complicated for a First Lady, maybe like me. (Laughter.) They worried that this was big government telling people what to feed their kids.
And frankly, to be honest with you, I had plenty of doubts of my own. What if we planted this garden and nothing grew? We talked about that. How did we? We didn't know about the soil, or the sunlight. And it’s like, oh, my God, what if nothing grows? What if we got just a few sad little tomatoes and a bunch of weeds after a big press announcement? It was like afterwards I remember telling Sam, this better work, buddy. (Laughter.) This better work.
What if we poured all this time and hard work into trying to move the needle on our kids’ health, and in the end, we had nothing to show for it? We invested — we put all our chips on this bet.
Well, fortunately, these worries never came to pass because right from the beginning, it was people like you — all of you here, who stepped up to make our work successful.
Folks from the National Park Service cared for this garden with such skill, and with such heart day in and day out, making sure that it didn't fail. We had kids like Tammie from Bancroft and Tubman schools — because there are many, many kids who came here season after season, planting and harvesting. Schools across the country came in, and they blew us away with their enthusiasm, and their work each year, planting and harvesting. It was just amazing to watch them, and then to watch them grow up through the garden.
Then we have our White House staffers, people who volunteered in droves to help maintain this along with the Park Service. This garden for many became a refuge from the stresses of their job. You imagine dealing with God knows what in the West Wing, and then being able to come here and just pick some weeds. (Laughter.) Very meditative.
We created the first-ever White House beehive and hopefully our bees are asleep right now. We talked about that. Because the bees can be problematic. We love our bees. But that's been so much fun. We give the honey away to everybody. Christmas gifts, leaders’ gifts, spousal gifts. Everybody has got honey. We’ve got plenty of it.
We have the first-ever White House compost system to highlight the importance of having healthy soil. That's back there. It’s going — it’s blazing, our composting. We plated the first-ever pollinator garden to provide a home for our birds and butterflies and our bees.
The food we’ve grown here has nourished thousands of our neighbors at a local organization serving those in need. And our chefs. And Bill is back. Our chefs rely on it. It’s been — they've used the garden — it’s featured in our White House State Dinners. So it’s been just phenomenal. It’s been a phenomenal resource for our team.
In fact, my husband will tell you that one of the most frequent questions he gets from world leaders is: “How’s your wife’s garden?” Yes, it’s true.
And over the years, this little garden has inspired countless folks across this country to plant gardens of their own. The number of schools with gardens here in D.C. alone has increased by 50 percent since 2011. (Applause.)
There is now an aeroponic garden at O’Hare Airport in my hometown of Chicago. I got to go see that. And a hospital near Philadelphia even planted an organic farm right on their campus to provide food for their patients, and they employ two farmers to take care of it. The president of that hospital said, “If the White House can do it, we can do it, too.”
So this garden has helped us start a national conversation about how we live and eat, a conversation that led to the first-ever White House Task Force on Childhood Obesity.
And as you all know, this task force reviewed every single program and policy in the entire federal government relating to children’s nutrition and physical activity. And they laid out a roadmap with five core areas of focus, including early childhood, empowering parents, providing more nutritious school meals, bringing healthier food into our communities, and increasing physical activity.
And we use these goals as our North Star for everything that we did, from passing the Child Nutrition bill, to slow dancing with Big Bird on an episode of “Billy on the Street,” from improving the nutrition fact labels on 800,000 food products, to enlisting industry leaders through the Partnership for a Healthier America. Yes, indeed, the Partnership. (Applause.) To our incredible Kids State Dinner, which is the highlight around these parts, to holding a push-up contest with Ellen – which, by the way, Ellen, I won. (Laughter.) I don't know what you're talking about. She brought that up the other day. She thinks she won. I won.
And today, six and a half years later, when we step back and think about the impact we’ve made through Let’s Move!, well, the numbers speak for themselves. And I’m just going to take a moment to just cite some of them.
Today, 81 million Americans — that’s about one in four people in this country — woke up in a Let’s Move! City, Town and County. (Applause.) Fifty million kids had access to healthier meals and snacks at school; 11 million kids attended a Let’s Move! Active School where they can get 60 minutes of physical activity a day; 1.6 million kids attended a Let’s Move! Child Care program, where they’re eating 225 million healthy meals and snacks a year; 8.1 million people in underserved areas had somewhere to buy healthier food, including 1,000 convenience stores.
And these numbers don’t even begin to capture the kind of transformational culture change that we’ve seen since we launched Let’s Move!
I mean, after an era of everything being super-sized, who would have thought that major companies would be racing to market smaller, lower-calorie versions of their snacks and beverages – from half-sized candy bars to little, mini soda cans. We see it everywhere we go.
Who would have predicted that a marketing campaign for fruits and vegetables would get 1 billion media impressions and feature product endorsements from athletes like Steph Curry?
Who would have thought that chain restaurants focused solely on salad would be the hottest new trend, or that those fitness bracelets would be so common that we wouldn’t even notice them any longer, or that Kwik Trip would sell an average of 400 pounds of bananas per store per day, or that we’d take it for granted that we can get apples and skim milk in kids’ meals at fast food places. Today we just assume that we can find healthy options at the drive-thru. So it’s not surprising that childhood obesity rates in this country have stopped rising, and they’ve even started falling for our youngest kids.
That’s the kind of change we’ve seen in just six and a half years. And make no mistake about it, all of this didn’t happen because of me. It happened because of all of you. That's why we thought it was so important to invite you to this celebration. You all are the ones.
It happened because elected officials like Mayor Pete Buttigieg — see I got that right, Mayor Pete — Mayor Pete, who is here with us. You talked to him earlier. He made this his cause, starting community gardens, building sidewalks and parks, starting summer nutrition programs and youth athletic leagues.
It happened because Food Service Directors like Donna Martin, who worked day and night to come up with healthy recipes that would make kids love their lunches — baking chicken instead of frying it, making pizza with whole wheat crust — homemade whole wheat crust, by the way, loading it with vegetables. And I have to tell you, we visited some of those schools. Those kids were cleaning their plates. We were cleaning our plates. It was the only school I’ve ever gone to where the staff was trying to get Styrofoam takeout to eat lunch on the plane. That has never happened before. (Laughter.) So the kids at these schools don't even know the difference.
And our success happened because of athletes like Alonzo Mourning, my dear friend, who use their star power to inspire kids to get active, and because industry leaders like Cathy Burns who got creative about marketing healthy food to kids, because visionary folks like Risa Lavizzo-Mourey, who made game-changing investments and stuck with this issue year after year after year. And that's really key. The kind of investment that's been made over decades. Not just, this was nice, now we're moving on. But sticking with this for the long haul.
So let’s be clear, no one can ever look at Let’s Move! and say that this was just Michelle Obama’s initiative. This has truly become a movement. And it certainly won’t end when I leave the White House because we still have a long way to go before we solve this problem.
As I said back when we first launched Let’s Move!, this is a generational challenge. But this garden has taught us that if we have the courage to plant a seed, just be brave enough to plant it, then take care of it, water it, tend to it, invite friends to help us take care of it, weather the storms that inevitably come, if we have the courage to do that, we never know what might grow. Now that's what this garden has taught me, to be fearless in those efforts, to try some new things, to not be afraid to mess up. Things we tell our kids all the time.
And while this is the last time I’ll be able to bring you all here to the White House as First Lady, we’re not here today to say good-bye. Because I didn’t just take on this issue on as First Lady, I took it on because I’m a mother who cares deeply about the health and well-being of my daughters. I took it on because I’m a citizen who loves this country and cares deeply about the future of all of our kids.
So I intend to keep working on this issue for the rest of my life. (Applause.)
And I’m very excited about what lies ahead because there is no better time to be engaged in this issue than now. We have new science and technologies that will drive innovations in ways that we can't even imagine. We have momentum like we have never seen, or could have dreamed of.
And healthy eating is starting to become the new norm for our kids. For many of them, you just think of it — kids like Tammy and younger, this is all they’ll ever know.
So let’s be very clear, this isn’t just a trend. It’s not a passing fad. This healthy eating stuff, it’s here to stay, and we now have everything we need to seize the opportunity and give all our kids the healthy futures they so richly deserve.
And I take great pride in knowing that this little garden will live on as a symbol of the hopes that we all hold of growing a healthier nation for our children — aspirations that have their rightful place here, in this beautiful spot outside of our nation’s home.
I take pride in knowing that this garden will serve as a reminder of what we all started, but also what we all have left to do. And as we dedicate this garden here today, I am hopeful that future First Families will cherish this garden like we have, and that it will become one of our enduring White House traditions.
So I want to end like I began, I want to say thank you. This has been fun. That's the beauty of it. It’s been a lot of work. It’s been hard work. But it’s felt so easy because of people like you, who have been open and thoughtful and creative and courageous and knew how to have a laugh every now and then. So it has been a true absolute privilege. And I hope everyone feels like we can drop the mic on this one. (Laughter and applause.)
So you all thank you all, I look forward to working with you in the years ahead. Enjoy. (Applause.)
4:31 P.M. EDT