Monday, October 26, 2009

Our White House Tour

Our trip to DC was Oct 6th-8th - so many things to write about, but this is one of the coolest.

On our last day in Washington DC we were lucky enough to be included in a special tour of the White House vegetable garden. One of the children we were lobbying with on the Hill is involved in a special project that she and a friend created to bring healthier lunches to her school. She has since gotten several other schools to pilot this healthy lunch program and somewhere along the way she connected with Mr. Sam Kass, the White House chef!

Mr. Kass invited Megan to come and tour the garden and Megan was kind enough to invite us along, allowing us to see a part of the White House not many are privy to.

We arrived en mass. My 3 year old already melting. There were 8 kids and their parents plus a few of the people from each of the groups being represented during the week. We met with Mariano-Florentino Cuellar, who is lead staffer for the White House Food Safety Working Group; and David Lazarus, senior advisor the USDA, and Mr. Kass. They listened as we each described what had happened to our families and children during each of our experiences with food-borne illnesses.

It was certainly an interesting meeting, formal as all the rest of the meetings that week and reaffirmed my belief that my world in Bend, OR is light years away from anything happening in Washington. Of course, during the meeting, true to form, my kids were the most restless. Beck was hungry, which didn¹t really help ­ he also has absolutely no understanding of what we were doing there. The child wouldn¹t sit still to save his life and there was no way I could explain to him why he couldn¹t just run up and down the hallways! National Security truly holds no weight with a hungry 3 year old!

After an hour long meeting with 3 very serious men who probably couldn¹t wait to escape my unruly child, we were led through the house and out into the garden. And it was definitely worth the wait. Beautiful and abundant don¹t begin to describe it. Mr. Kass showed us the bee houses, ­ a first at the White House. He also told us that they have gotten 140 lbs of honey from them!

The vegetable garden was something I will always wish we could have here in Bend. Aside from the extremely short growing season, my thumb is more black than green- something that is obviously not a problem for Mr. Kass. He and the First Lady have done an amazing job with the garden and have already harvested over 700 lbs of food so far this year! What they don¹t use at the White House, they are able to donate to local soup kitchens. The variety of vegetables we saw was wonderful ­ all different kinds of tomatoes, lettuces, herbs, potatoes- it made me want to make a salad on the spot.

Thomas spotted the broccoli and launched into a story about how broccoli is actually a flower and if you don¹t cut off the center it will bloom. I was so proud of him for speaking up and sharing what he knew about the garden ­ he thought it was very cool to be able to share his knowledge.

It was an amazing two hours ­ we got to see things most people don¹t ever get to see or even know it exists ­ like the awesome play structure the Obama girls have there at the White House. Keeping Beck and Thomas from running over to climb on it was no easy feat! And of course Thomas, being a very curious 7 year old, was bound and determined to go places he shouldn¹t ­ like behind the hedges away from the garden and walking over away from the group to touch the White House.

After we got home, I looked online to learn a bit more about the garden and the projects going on around food at the White House. Interesting to see Michelle Obama involved in bringing more of a healthy approach to not only the White House and what she feeds her kids but also making it one of her projects as the First Lady. It¹s nice to see another mom who is concerned about teaching her children about healthy choices for life. As First Lady she has a position to make a difference ­ power it seems she is using wisely. On most of our trip I noticed hundreds of tourists making poor choices right and left and was beginning to feel that maybe the east coast in general eats a little differently than we do on the west coast. I was heartened to hear the story of the garden and see that the local and regional food movements are happening across the country not just in the places I¹ve been lucky enough to live in.

I was appreciative of the opportunity to see a part of our government that most people don¹t even know exists.

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