Michelle Obama's first book, American Grown: The Story of the White House Kitchen Garden and Gardens Across America, hits the bookstores today. Just in time for summertime gardening, for your kids' summer vacation projects (Cook your own dinner! Build your own compost bin!), and even for a season of happy political cooking.
The 271-page book, published by Crown Publishers, considers the raised vegetable beds on the South Lawn as a paradigm for the growth of America's children. Obama has made her "Let's Move" campaign and a focus on healthful eating central features of her own White House tenure.
The First Lady's book tells the story of the White House Kitchen Garden, from behind-the-scenes "Will my garden grow?" moments to recipes for the abundant produce that is eventually harvested. Obama traces the history of the White House garden from its first planting on March 20, 2009, through the its current state, including photographs of both garden and harvest.
This isn't just a White House memo: Obama's book includes stories about community gardens across America, maps tracing the growth of the White House garden, recipes matched to each of the four sections (one, of course, for each season), and historical details from the long history of White House gardening. John Adams' garden, the first to be planted, remained unharvested after he lost the election. Thomas Jefferson spent a great deal of time in pursuit of a 4-foot cucumber. (Why does this not come as a surprise?)
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The First Lady gives a lot of her own backstory, too, from her grandmother's Chicago victory garden to her father's childhood job on a vegetable truck. And there's a lovely how-to component, with instructions not only for that compost bin (seriously, make one) but for building your own backyard, school or community garden. Not a bad way to spend the summer, with or without politics.
Obama, who did not receive an advance for the book, is donating the proceeds to the National Park Foundation's gardening and healthy eating programs, and toward the care of the White House garden.
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