It is always a privilege to be invited to the White House to cover a story, but rare are those occasions when the first lady of the United States invites a handful of female journalists to dine privately with her on fresh-from-the-beehive honey and granny smith apples at picnic tables decorated with yellow checkered gingham, sitting on the South Lawn behind the White House.
TheGrio was the only African-American news site to be invited to such an outing yesterday with first lady Michelle Obama, along with some of the nation’s leading health and female-focused web sites. Mrs. Obama looked wonderful in a linen, light blue and white French twill dress, her hair almost shoulder length now, gently parted on the side, her arms more fabulous than ever. Her presence was gentle and welcoming as we gathered to discuss her new book, American Grown: The Story of the White House Kitchen Garden and Gardens Across America.
The new book, published by Random House, is more than just your typical “coffee table” book. It is the first lady’s debut book as an author, making her now the second member of the Obama family to become a published writer. (Her husband, President Obama, is an award winning New York Times bestselling author.) When asked how her husband felt about the finished product, Michelle said, “He is really proud. He was surprised at how substantive the book was in addition to all of the wonderful pictures. He felt it was very readable.”
As for her daughters, Malia and Sasha, Mrs. Obama said they probably had the most impact on how she shaped the book, because the girls like picture-based books that capture their attention. “They were the first after me to see the book. And I knew it was good, because, first of all, the design of it as a coffee table book is really inspired by them. We have a lot of coffee table books, because they can’t watch a lot of TV. So if we have downtime and we’re sitting in a spot where there are books — they love to go through these. And it’s usually the pictures that draw them in. So I took that cue and thought, ‘We need to make it colorful, we need to make it something that a kid would pick up and thumb through and think, wow, this is kind of good.’ So when I gave them the book, it happened. You saw Malia going, ‘Oh, this is nice, Mom, it’s a good book.’ And then ten minutes later, she still had it, and she was still thumbing through it, and then she started reading it.”
But this book is so much more than just a tome with vivid color pictures and images of gardens, featuring first lady Obama with Americans from every corner of our land. In American Grown, Mrs. Obama invites you inside the White House kitchen garden and shares the inspiring story of its creation, from the first planting to the latest harvest. Readers get an unprecedented behind-the-scenes look at every season of the garden’s growth, with striking original photographs that bring its story to life. There are unique recipes created by White House chefs, made with ingredients freshly picked from the White House garden originally, but that you can make at home. The helpful text also instructs readers through tips from the White House garden team regarding how to plant your own backyard, school or community plot.
Michelle Obama takes us on a journey around the nation as well as she shares the stories of other gardens that have moved and inspired her: Houston office workers who make their sidewalks bloom; a New York City School that created a scented garden for the visually impaired; a North Carolina garden that devotes its entire harvest to those in need; and other stories of communities that are transforming the lives and health of their citizens. There is even a downloadable app for the iPad, plus a version available in audio book format with Mrs. Obama reading the text. Her goal is to connect us as people, families, and communities around the issues of quality food and health.