First Lady and FoodCorps Plant Sixth Annual White House Kitchen Garden in April
Whitney Smith, FoodCorps service member at the Detroit Black Community Food Security Network (photo credit: FoodCorps.org)
By Terry McLean, GMI Community Food Systems
First Lady Michelle Obama and FoodCorps leaders and service members from around the country(including one from Detroit, MI) participated in the 6th annual White House Kitchen Garden Spring Planting on April 2, 2014 in Washington, DC with help from elementary school students from several DC schools.
Mrs. Obama first planted a vegetable garden on the South Lawn in 2009 to initiate a national conversation around the health and wellbeing of our nation—a conversation that evolved into her Let’s Move! Initiative. With the launch of Let’s Move! in 2010, parents, business leaders, educators, elected officials, military leaders, chefs, physicians, athletes, childcare providers, community and faith leaders, and kids themselves have stepped up to improve the health of our nation’s children. And thanks to these efforts, we are moving toward a healthier new norm all across the country.
This year, Mrs. Obama invited the founders of the national service program FoodCorps and six FoodCorps service members from across the country to join her at the garden planting. FoodCorps is a nationwide team of leaders that connects kids to real food and helps them grow up healthy. The FoodCorps mission states that ‘through the hands and minds of emerging leaders, we strive to give all youth an enduring connection to healthy food’. FoodCorps is part of the AmeriCorps Service Network and receives a portion of its funding from them, as well as from the W.K.Kellogg Foundation and an array of private and public donors.
Sixth annual White House Kitchen Garden planting team.
Photo courtesy Eddie Gehman Kohan.
Serving under the direction of state and community partners, FoodCorps members across the country dedicate a year of public service to help children grow up in healthy school food environments. This fall, FoodCorps is planning to expand (pending funding) into Washington DC — students from those schools attended the kitchen garden planting. In addition, Mrs. Obama was joined in the garden by students from schools who have been active participants in the White House Kitchen Garden in the past.
The six FoodCorps service members that helped with the White House Kitchen Garden planting (and a corresponding new pollinator garden) came from Detroit, MI; Woodbridge, CT; Boston, MA; Wilmington, NC; Oakland, CA; and Camden, NJ. Initially, the service members were unaware of the special assignment that they were invited to participate in – only asked for their personal information and advised to clear two days of their schedule in early April. Whitney Smith is the FoodCorps service member serving a second term at the Detroit Black Community Food Security Network in Detroit. Whitney shared that she was very curious when contacted by the national FoodCorps staff for the secret assignment on such short notice, and guessed ahead of time about the exciting opportunity ahead. Whitney’s service in Detroit includes educating students on food gardening, food justice, nutrition and instructing youth on urban agriculture, often described as ‘farm to school’ activities.
All FoodCorp service members teach kids about healthy food and where it comes from, engage students in hands on cooking and gardening lessons, and collaborate with food service to bring high quality local food into cafeterias. There are many ways to engage in this service, as evidenced by the wide array of programs that the other service members at the White House Kitchen Garden planting are involved with in their communities: using urban school gardens to integrate academic and environmental education; helping to develop farm-to-cafeteria campaigns; Chef to School Programs; a statewide Partnership for Healthy Kids; and district level procurement for the National School Meal Program.
Michelle Obama called FoodCorps “close to her heart.” She said that the work FoodCorps does –– “getting out there and teaching healthy habits for our kids –– is brilliant”. And she gave each person from the FoodCorps delegation –- four members of the founding team and six FoodCorps service members –– a hug before she said goodbye. “Because of the work and service we’re doing together, there’s one newly planted garden in front of a presidential mansion in Washington –– and there are hundreds more in front of schoolhouses across the country” said Curt Ellis, FoodCorps Co-Founder and Chief Executive Officer, who participated in the kitchen garden planting.
The FoodCorps program in Michigan is administered by the Michigan State University Extension Community Food Systems team – a statewide network of Extension Educators whose work is closely aligned with the FoodCorps pillars of service - knowledge, engagement and access.
Video of the White House Kitchen Garden planting is available here.■