Praise for the thousands of tireless federal employees who support farmers, ranchers, and the Let's Move! campaign...
Washington, DC - First Lady Michelle Obama was greeted by an excited crowd of more than 500 employees on Friday morning as she paid a "thank you" visit to the US Department of Agriculture.
here to just thank you, truly thank you for the terrific work that you
do every single day on behalf of the American people," said Mrs. Obama, clad in a white, green and blue geometric print dress as she stood onstage in the Jefferson Auditorium.
The largest agency in the federal government, USDA has been
crucial to the First Lady's Let's Move! campaign, and she was joined by Secretary Tom Vilsack as she lauded the staff for their work. Her remarks were aired live around the nation on USDA's closed-circuit TV.
"Thank you for supporting our farmers and our ranchers...you keep our food safe, working to end hunger, improve nutrition for families across this country," Mrs. Obama said.
She also thanked the staff for protecting the environment and for "lifting up" rural communities. Noting that her White House Kitchen Garden is thriving--"it's really pretty"--Mrs. Obama pointed to it as the foundation of her childhood obesity campaign.
"The garden helped spark a conversation in this country about healthy eating that led us to create Let’s Move!," Mrs. Obama said. "And all of you all at USDA, let me just tell you, have been such a critical part of this effort right from the very start."
"All the conversation, all the movement around health, that's all because of so many of you right here in this room and throughout this building, and in agencies and facilities all over this country."
USDA oversees the
National School Lunch Program, which feeds about 32 million children, and has been very busy implementing the changes mandated by the Healthy, Hunger
Free Kids Act 2010. Mrs. Obama championed the measure as it moved through Congress, and praised the staff for "working tirelessly to implement it all across the country."
"I believe that that legislation is truly one of the greatest legacies that we can leave our children," Mrs. Obama said.
She added that she hopes the lunches are not only nutritious but "delicious."
"We are working on that...yes indeed," Mrs. Obama said. One Let's Move! component, Chefs Move to Schools, helps professional chefs partner with schools to improve lunch menus.
Standing on stage surrounded by eleven employees, the First Lady also praised Vilsack during her pep talk; he has served as President Obama's Agriculture Secretary since 2009. (Above, Mrs. Obama shakes hands with Al Almanza, administrator of the Food Safety and Inspection Service)
"From day one, he has led with passion and vision and an unyielding commitment to the mission of this department," Mrs. Obama said.
"Just as a personal note...Tom---more than anything else --is a good man. And he has been such a loyal, dependable and honest person."
As he introduced Mrs. Obama, the Secretary also paid compliments, suggesting her portrait be placed on display in the department along with his own and that of President Obama. Though the crowd cheered, the First Lady squashed the idea.
"We won’t do that," Mrs. Obama said, laughing.
As she closed, Mrs. Obama noted that many of the staffers are "lifetime employees," and encouraged them to "to retain that passion."
"Retain that passion and that energy and that vigor for what you do," Mrs. Obama said. "It absolutely matters to so many people. So don't get tired. Stay engaged. Stay blessed. And just know that you have a President and First Lady who truly values every single thing you do every day."
After speaking for about ten minutes, Mrs. Obama worked the ropeline, shaking hands for about five minutes before departing. The First Lady arrived at USDA at 11:47 AM; the outing was part of a series of second-term "thank you" visits to federal agencies. Last week the First Lady visited the Department of the Interior. (Above, Mrs. Obama greets Vilsack)
Mrs. Obama's visit was closed to press except for one print pool reporter; it was her third visit to USDA since President Obama took office. Her last visit was in June of 2011 to help Vilsack unveil the MyPlate campaign.
*The full transcript of Mrs. Obama's remarks.
*USDA photos by Bob Nichols