Tuesday, May 07, 2013

Michelle Obama Discusses The Importance Of Gardening At 'American Grown' Book Signing

Excited fans attend First Lady's second-ever autograph session, held at DC's Politics & Prose bookstore...
Washington, DC: First Lady Michelle Obama took over independent bookstore Politics & Prose on Tuesday morning to sign copies of her book American Grown: The Story of the White House Kitchen Garden and Gardens Across America.  

Clad in a black top sprinkled with silvery flowers and a grey and gold micro-pleated skirt, Mrs. Obama stood before shelves packed with her books as she spoke about the importance of gardening to an avid crowd of about 250 fans who had braved a long wait in rainy weather.

"Not so good for standing outside, but really good for gardeners, this rain,” Mrs. Obama said, smiling, and touted her tome as the perfect Mother's Day gift.

"Buy away.  It’s Mother’s Day," Mrs. Obama said, adding that her own mother "already has, like, ten copies." 

"But I might buy her another one just for the heck of it...it’s a great gift, and hopefully you share it with your family and friends," Mrs. Obama said to appreciative laughter.

The National Park Foundation receives Mrs. Obama's proceeds from the book.  Published last May, the lavishly photographed hardcover is Mrs. Obama's first outing as an author, a combination memoir and gardening guide that tells the story of her Kitchen Garden, the Let's Move! campaign, and community gardens across the US.  It includes White House recipes and commentary from the chefs, as well as blurbs from food activists.

"My goal in this book is to share the story of the creation of the garden, because while it is semi-open to the public...millions of people don’t get a chance to come to Washington," Mrs. Obama said.

"We also wanted to...use it as a way to talk about one of the issues that is important to me and has been something that I’ve talked about a lot as First Lady, is ending the epidemic of childhood obesity." 

The behind-the-scenes stories about the White House staff who are involved in her garden include First Dog Bo, Mrs. Obama noted.

"He’s a very significant part of the book," she said.

Indeed, the First Dog is featured in many photos with his mistress, while daughters Malia and Sasha do not appear anywhere in the 271 pages.  But her daughters are fans, Mrs. Obama said.

"I found that my girls really enjoy just thumbing through and looking at the pictures, but slowly but surely they started to actually read what was in there," Mrs. Obama said.

"And that’s really the hope--that the pictures draw people of all ages in and then they start to read it and maybe start thinking about how to start a garden on their own, because there are many ways to do it.  You don’t have to have many acres.  You don’t have to have a staff.  You can have a few containers."

Mrs. Obama started her garden in 2009 with an initial cost of $175 dollars for seeds and soil amendments, White House aides said at the time.  Since then, the 1,500-square-foot garden has produced thousands of pounds of vegetables, and the First Lady has welcomed students from across the nation for annual Spring plantings and Fall harvests.  She gave school gardens a shout out, too.

"There are schools that are starting gardens and they’re using it as part of the curriculum, and we talk about that in the book as well," Mrs. Obama said.  

The Dwiggins family of North Carolina joined Mrs. Obama at Politics & Prose; they work in a community garden featured in the book, and got props from the First Lady, who was meeting them for the first time.

"That’s also part of what this book is...it’s the story of community gardens all across this country, because the truth is the idea of the White House garden is not unique,"  Mrs. Obama said.

"Community gardens are a significant part of the history of this country, which is why we thought it was important to incorporate these stories in the telling of the White House garden story."

Customers at the event had to pre-purchase their books last week for the full list price of $30 (on Amazon.com, American Grown is available for $17.85).  The bookstore was closed to the public during Mrs. Obama's visit, and attendees had to sign up in person last Thursday and pass a mandatory Secret Service security clearance

The event was closed to press after "an open press spray at the top of the signing."  The autograph session was just Mrs. Obama's second; last June, the First Lady signed her books at DC's downtown Barnes & Noble bookstore.  

"If you recall, when the book came out we were in the middle of this campaign, or something or other,"  Mrs. Obama joked.  "So we were a little busy."  

American Grown spent five weeks on The New York Times bestseller list following its release by Crown Publishing, a division of Random House, on May 29, 2012.  The publisher says that more than 175,000 copies have been printed.  Crown also published President Obama's two best-selling memoirs.

The First Lady "accepted no advance for American Grown and all author proceeds will go to the National Park Foundation, the official charity of America’s national parks," the White House said when announcing the book signing event.

"Funds will be used for programs that promote gardening and healthy eating and give young people the opportunity to experience the outdoors and lead more active lives, as well as for the continued care of the White House Kitchen Garden.  Random House will also donate a portion of its profits to the National Park Foundation," the White House said.  

*The full transcript of Mrs. Obama's remarks.

*An excerpt from American Grown.

Check the sidebar of this site for American Grown recipes (or click the link).  

Links to all posts about the Kitchen Garden.

Above, the line inside the bookstore waiting for Mrs. Obama.
*Getty photos; book jacket photo courtesy of Crown Publishing