If the White House is doing it, so should we — growing a kitchen garden, that is. Shortly after moving into 1600 Pennsylvania Ave., First Lady Michelle Obama planted the largest and most varied kitchen garden in the history of the White House.
Located on the South Lawn, the 1,100 square foot L-shaped plot is home to more than 55 different vegetables and herbs plus some fruits, which are used in meals for the first family and their guests. The remainder of the harvest is donated to a local soup kitchen and to the Food Bank Organization.
The benefits of growing a kitchen garden, especially for kids, are bountiful. For starters, it gets them outside in the fresh air and sunshine, which helps their bodies produce Vitamin D, important for building strong bones and teeth and for protection against a variety of diseases including cancer and diabetes.
In a society that has become dependent on processed, packaged, factory-made foods, many families are consuming more calories but fewer nutrients. Kids may be much more enthusiastic about incorporating fresh produce into their diet when it is the fruit of their own labor.
And talk about a confidence boost! Nurturing a plant from seed to the table can be an empowering process for kids.
A kitchen garden can also inspire a love of learning. Kids are not containers that we simply pour information into; they are individual learners who gather and process information in unique ways. Through gardening, they will learn a variety of things, including the best soil and compost to use, the role of moisture in growing food, how to manage wildlife and insects, the needs of different hardiness zones, and what plants grow in which seasons in their area.
Simple steps to starting a kitchen garden
1. Start small: Research plants that grow well in your area. Find fruits or vegetables that your family will enjoy eating, and read about how to grow those foods.
2. Build a raised bed: Raised beds are great for beginners because you can more easily control the soil and prevent weeds. Beds can be of any length but not wider than four feet so you can reach into the middle without having to step on the bed.
3. Use a weed barrier: Before laying down your raised bed, cover the ground with cardboard to prevent weeds from sprouting up.
4. Enrich the soil: Talk to your local nursery to learn the best ways to enrich the soil in your area.
5. Consider heirlooms: When shopping for seeds, look for heirloom brands, which have been saved and handed down through multiple generations. They tend to grow better tasting (and sometimes more nutritious) plants, and you can harvest their seeds and save them for next year’s planting season.