Thursday, October 31, 2013

Muppets Elmo & Rosita Join First Lady Michelle Obama For 2013 Fall Kitchen Garden Harvest

Photos: Mrs. Obama welcomes kids from three states & DC for first autumn harvest since 2011...
The White House - First Lady Michelle Obama late on Wednesday afternoon welcomed 24 children invited from elementary schools in Virginia, Maryland, West Virginia, and the District of Columbia for a harvest party in her Kitchen Garden.  Special guests of honor were Sesame Street's Elmo and Rosita, who monitored the action from atop bales of hay placed behind a bed of broccoli.

Muppets in the garden are a first for the Mrs. Obama.  The furry creatures are the newest members of the Let's Move! family, thanks to a new produce marketing collaboration the First Lady announced before hitting the crop rows to work.

FLOTUS welcomes guests
"Wow, look at the garden.  It looks pretty good," Mrs. Obama said as she welcomed the kids.  She had some pointed words for the scrum of reporters watching the action from behind a ropeline.

"For those of you who may have prematurely reported on the demise of the White House Kitchen Garden, as you can see, it is healthy and growing and fine," Mrs. Obama said,
a reference to the government shutdown chaos in the crop rows.

First reported by Obama Foodorama, the news went on to make global headlines because the garden had gone wild during 16 days of inattention.

Harvesting broccoli with helpers
Of course the garden looked swell on Wednesday:  It had been rapidly restored by the White House's busy crew of National Park Service gardeners who worked daily since the government re-opened on Oct. 17.   

The 1,500-square foot plot was rejuvenated in time for last weekend's White House 'Fall Garden Viewing,' when thousands of guests strolled the South Lawn on self-guided tours, which included Mrs. Obama's signature project.  

The restoration included cleaning out dead leaves, trimming wildly overgrown vines, removing rotten vegetables--and transplanting some new ones into the raised beds, including Swiss chard and Tennis Ball lettuce.

FLOTUS walks by newly trimmed sage
The White House gardeners did even more work on Wednesday morning before Mrs. Obama's arrival for the harvest, cutting back overgrown red Pineapple Sage plants and a giant lemongrass bush, and removing more dead leaves from the vines of the sweet potatoes Mrs. Obama harvested.  They also installed the hay bales so the Muppets' human controllers had a place to hide. 

Though it was chilly and rainy in the morning, the day was sunny, bright and warm as the First Lady and her happy helpers went to work, harvesting veggies they'd soon turn into a picnic with the help of the White House chefs.

"I loo-ove broccoli," Mrs. Obama told the Muppets as she knifed big heads off the stems with the help of three enthusiastic young gardeners.  Elmo and Rosita bobbed appreciatively.

FLOTUS & Asst. Chef Tafari Campbell harvest carrots
The kids had been given their marching orders from Let's Move! Executive Director Sam Kass before the First Lady arrived, and they buzzed around the garden with adult companions.

There are currently more than 30 kinds of fruits and vegetables growing in the garden, and the First Lady would harvest carrots, sweet potatoes, and a big crop of pumpkins before she was done.

Mrs. Obama had had an outfit change from her announcement event in the State Dining Room, swapping a bright pink sheath dress for black jeans and a grey and blue long-sleeved top.  She wore tan Converse sneakers, though the ground was damp from the morning rain.

Sunny, the First Family's Portuguese Water Dog puppy, loves tomatoes, Mrs. Obama was overheard telling her helpers as they yanked dirt-covered carrots out of the ground.  

"She likes to eat them from the vines," Mrs. Obama said.  Obama Foodorama photographed the now 16-month-old Sunny romping through the garden in September

"Bo doesn't like to come down here so much, but Sunny does," Mrs. Obama told her helpers. 

The biggest pumpkin from the patch
In the pumpkin patch, located at the back of the Kitchen Garden by the biocycler, the First Lady paused to admire the many specimens, large and small, some striped green and orange, some the palest orange.  There were multiple varieties, Kass told her.

"It's the biggest crop ever," Kass said.  

Harvested pumpkins
Fifteen pumpkins filled a wheelbarrow when Mrs. Obama and her helpers were done cutting the future jack-o-lanterns from their vines.

The children joining Mrs. Obama were from Magnolia Elementary School in Joppa, MD; Linwood Holton Elementary School in Richmond, VA; and North Elementary School in Morgantown, WV, as well as DC's Harriet Tubman Elementary and Bancroft Elementary.  

The two schools have been providing Mrs. Obama with helpers since she first planted the garden in 2009.  All were invited because their schools have introduced healthy snacks onto menus, the East Wing said. 

In the sweet potato beds, Mrs. Obama hauled out dirt-covered specimens.  Sweet potatoes, she has said, are a favorite of President Obama's.  Kass also dubbed the crop a major achievement.

Not a squirrel was to be seen as Mrs. Obama worked, though the bushy-tailed beasts that took over the garden during the shutdown might have had some new pals in Elmo and Rosita.

As for the fox who was living on the historic 18-acre grounds, who made his own headlines during the government shutdown?

"I can neither confirm nor deny the existence of the fox, since I have never personally seen him," Kass said, grinning, when asked if the elusive creature is still living alongside the First Family.

Kass helps Mrs. Obama makes a turkey wrap
A gardenside picnic...
After the harvesting was done, the kids and Mrs. Obama moved to prep tables set up beside the garden.  Led by Executive Chef Cris Comerford, the chefs had been busily cooking turkey and flat bread over a charcoal grill as Mrs. Obama and the kids stripped the crops.

With Elmo, Rosita and kids flanking her, Mrs. Obama rolled up a turkey sandwich, using lettuce and sungold tomatoes that had just been harvested.  It included a hummus spread.

Kass stepped in to show proper rolling technique.  "That's how it's done," he said.

Yosses and Morrison cook beside the garden
As the kids and chefs, including Executive Pastry Chef Bill Yosses and Assistant Pastry Chef Susie Morrision finished prepping the meal, Mrs. Obama walked along the picnic tables, covered in red and white checked tablecloths.  She placed napkins over the food that awaited the kids; the bees from the nearby beehive were very busy in the warm afternoon.

"Just ignore the bees," Mrs. Obama instructed at one point.

FLOTUS picnics with her helpers
Mrs. Obama sat down at the head of a picnic table to eat with her young guests.  The meal also included a spiced carrot soup made with apples and leeks, prepped ahead of time in the kitchen, and served in cups.  The kids gobbled their late lunches.

After, Mrs. Obama signed their t-shirts--a garden tradition--and doled out plenty of hugs before posing for a group photo.

She advised the kids to study hard and eat their vegetables, before waving farewell and strolling back up to the White House, trailed by aides and Secret Service agents.

Kass remained behind in the garden, where he filmed a series of interviews with TV crews with the soaring okra plants as a back drop.  During a segment for entertainment show Extra, correspondent AJ Calloway asked Kass about his recently announced engagement to MSNBC anchor Alex Wagner.

Kass smiled broadly.  "I'm the luckiest guy alive," he said. 
Harvested broccoli, purple mustard, eggplant & ginger
As the sun sank over the South Lawn, festooned with dozens and dozens of carved Halloween pumpkins in preparation for Thursday's Presidential trick-or-treating fest, it seemed that truer words were never spoken.  

*The transcript of Mrs. Obama's remarks.

CLICK HERE for links to all Kitchen Garden posts.

CLICK HERE for links to all Let's Move! posts

*Photo by Eddie Gehman Kohan/Obama Foodorama