A model for increased healthy food access: Kitchen Garden will grow crops through the winter with low-tech protection that uses solar energy to warm the earth & safeguard the vegetables...
This year's White House Gingerbread House features a mini marzipan Kitchen Garden complete with hoop houses, and now first Lady Michelle Obama's real South Lawn Kitchen Garden is covered with hoop houses, too, for the garden's second winter growing season. Deputy Agriculture Secretary Kathleen Merrigan recently joined Senior Policy Adviser for Healthy Foods Initiatives Sam Kass and White House Chief Horticulturalist Jim Adams to install the hoop houses, which are designed to ensure that the garden grows fresh vegetables through the cold months. (Above: Kass, right, Merrigan, in the middle, and Adams place plastic sheeting over a row of hoops)
The Kitchen Garden was covered with hoop houses last year, too, which enabled it to produce crops all winter, despite two record-breaking blizzards, dubbed Snowmageddon I & II by locals. Hoop houses, also called high tunnels, are typically made with plastic or metal piping, which is bent over the crop rows, then covered with plastic or other sheeting that is secured with sandbags. In a new post on the Let's Move! blog, Merrigan explains why hoop houses are important, for home gardeners as well as farmers.
"Easy to build, maintain and move, they provide an energy-efficient way to extend the growing season," Merrigan writes. "Unlike greenhouses, they require no energy, relying on natural sunlight to modify the climate inside to create favorable conditions for growing vegetables and other specialty crops." (Above: The completed hoop houses in place)
"They are another step in increasing the ability of farmers and gardeners around the nation to grow and provide healthy nutritious fruits and vegetables throughout the year. Quite simply, they capture solar energy and create favorable conditions enabling farmers to grow vegetables, berries and other specialty crops in climates and at times of the year in which it would otherwise be impossible.
While the weather in the Washington D.C. has been fairly mild, it will soon turn cold and long after the first frosts, the White House will be enjoying fresh greens right from their garden. Families across the nation can use simple ideas like this to increase the number of fruits and vegetables they consume. In turn this will lead to healthier families, a key component of the Let’s Move! campaign. Small changes like this can make a big difference and add up to real results."
Washington's weather has actually been very cold this week, averaging in the low 30s, with biting winds. Last year, USDA launched a three-year, 38-state pilot study of hoop houses, to determine effectiveness in conserving water, reducing pesticide use, maintaining vital soil nutrients, and increasing crop yields.
"This is a win-win situation for everyone as farmers who sell their high tunnel produce locally benefit from the extra income, and the community benefits from the availability of fresh, locally grown food," Merrigan writes. (Above: Mrs. Obama with kid helpers and Kass, left, and guest chef Jose Andres during the Spring Harvest)
By the numbers...
400 more square feet were added to the garden in 2010 during the Spring planting, which makes the White House's model succession garden a total of 1,500 square feet. According to Kass, the Kitchen Garden has produced more than 2,000 pounds of fruit and vegetables since it was first planted in the Spring of 2009. The Kitchen Garden was harvested for Fall 2010 in October, with about 400 pounds of produce just from the oversized sweet potatoes that were grown. A special Spring Harvest took place in June, during the launch of the Chefs Move to Schools initiative. The Beehive this year produced about 160 pounds of honey, up from last year's output of 143 pounds.
In 2009, Merrigan and Kass made a video about the first Kitchen Garden hoop house installation:
*Top photos via Let's Move!; third by EGK/Obama Foodorama; USDA video