Thursday, December 17, 2009

Sam Kass On Getting First Lady Michelle Obama's Kitchen Garden Ready For Winter

Sam Kass loves winter spinach as much as he loves soil conservation...
For the first time si
nce becoming First Lady Michelle Obama's Food Initiative Coordinator at the White House, assistant chef Sam Kass writes about one of her favorite projects, the Kitchen Garden, in a new post on the White House blog. (Kass, above). Kass explains the Dec. 4 installation of hoop houses over the crop rows in order to continue to grow veggies in the Kitchen Garden during the cold season, and he also extols the values of soil conservation, and the delights of winter spinach. Kass writes:

As we head into the holiday season, the White House has been beautifully decorated by volunteers from all over the country. The White House kitchen staff has also been busy preparing food for holiday parties, and pastry chefs have been baking cookies non-stop for lucky children who come for a visit. In the midst of all of this, we have been preparing the garden for the winter and another round of crops.

The first three plantings of the White House Kitchen Garden were more bountiful than even we expected. After harvesting the last of the fall planting, more than 1007 lbs of produce was taken from the garden this year! I think the garden has been the most delicious idea the First Lady has had yet!

While chefs in the kitchen have enjoyed cooking with the healthy, fresh fruits and vegetables immensely, we have also continued to learn a great deal about the impact of the garden on the dozens of school groups who have come to visit. Their smart questions, insights and ideas never cease to amaze us.

Over the past few weeks, we have worked to prepare the soil for the planting of the winter garden. We are able to extend the growing season by using a simple, inexpensive cover called a high tunnel or hoop house. A hoop house simply amounts to a series of metal bars set in a row over one of the beds, and a fabric or plastic pulled tight around the bars. As the sun warms the garden during the day, the fabric traps the heat in, keeping the plants from freezing overnight. Although there are many kinds of plants that aren’t able to grow even in the hoop houses, we are thrilled to have so many delicious things growing at this very moment! (Above: Mrs. Obama with students from DC's Bancroft and Kimball elementary schools, White House chefs, and the staff of Miriam's Kitchen display the Fall Garden Harvest)

We have planted spinach, lettuce, carrots, mustard greens, chard and cabbage, and we will add a few more varieties in the next couple weeks. I especially look forward to cooking with the spinach. Winter spinach is extra sweet. Sugar doesn’t freeze, so spinach produces extra sugars in the winter to protect itself from frost. It tastes almost like candy. We are going to make soups, salads and, of course, Chef Comerford’s famous cream-less creamed spinach.

In the area of the garden that is not being planted with vegetables, we are planting a cover crop of rye. This is a technique that farmers use to help re-balance their soil and, most importantly, prevent erosion of top soil during the harsh winter. This is an incredibly important technique that all growers can utilize. Topsoil is one of our most valuable commodities, and we are working hard to protect it.

We are excited to be able to continue growing food year round here at the White House.

Happy holidays and happy gardening!

--Sam Kass
White House Assistant Chef, Food Initiative Coordinator

Related: A video of the hoop house installation is here. More on the Kitchen Garden, hoop houses, and DC snow is here. Tours of the Kitchen Garden, led by White House chefs, are available for school groups. The Fall Garden Harvest is here. A detailed look at the garden on its six-month anniversary, including messaging and media myths, is here. More video: The Story of The Garden. The first Kitchen Garden video: Kass gives Philadelphia Phillies star Ryan Howard a tour of the garden. Top soil scientists correct the record on the myth of lead contamination in the Kitchen Garden here; the White House releases a new statement about low levels of lead here.

*Photos by Obama Foodrama; top photo is via the White House