One Obama Legacy Trump Isn’t Overturning Is Michelle’s White House Garden

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tags: Obama, Michelle Obama, Trump, White House Garden

Suzy Evans is a literary agent, attorney, and author who holds a Ph.D. in history from UC Berkeley.  Her books include "Machiavelli for Moms" (Simon & Schuster) and "Forgotten Crimes: the Holocaust and People with Disabilities."  Find Suzy on Twitter @thehistorychef and at 

In 1918, Woodrow Wilson purchased a flock of 18 sheep. The White House lawns turned out to make outstanding pasture land for the sheep.

As Donald Trump threatens nuclear war with North Korea, suspiciously defends Vladimar Putin and white supremacists, and attempts to dismantle Barack Obama’s legacy however high the cost, there is one tiny bright spot amid the relentless onslaught of chaos and insanity, which is that Melania Trump is preserving the Obama's Kitchen Garden legacy at the White House.

The White House, of course, has had many fruit and vegetable gardens since the building was completed in 1800. Thomas Jefferson was the first president to hire a White House gardener, but it wasn't until John Quincy Adams planted hundreds of fruit tree seedlings and vegetables in 1825 that the White House gardens really began to take root. 

Adams also planted two varieties of walnuts, three varieties of chestnuts, hazelnuts and apple seeds on the White House lawn and would often roam through the countryside collecting acorns, which he and an aide later planted in the garden. In June, 1827, he noted in his dairy that, “In this small garden, of less than two acres, there are forest and fruit-trees, shrubs, hedges, esculent vegetables, kitchen and medicinal herbs, hot-house plants, flowers, and weeds, to the amount, I conjecture, of at least one thousand.”

When Andrew Jackson moved into the White House, he added more trees, including the famed Jackson Magnolias, which he planted in memory of his wife Rachel, who died shortly before he took office in 1829, and two of which still stand at the South Portico today. 

Jackson also added an early type of an enclosed greenhouse, known as the Orangery, where tropical fruit trees and flowers could be grown. The Orangery was demolished in 1857, however, and a greenhouse was built in its place but was later demolished to make room for the West Wing in 1902.

With the outbreak of World War I, Woodrow Wilson used sheep to graze the White House lawns to help conserve labor for the war effort. Consisting of 48 sheep at its peak, the flock saved manpower for fertilizing the gardens and the sight of sheep grazing on White House grounds was a visible symbol of home front support for American troops overseas.

During World War II, Eleanor Roosevelt planted a Victory Garden on the White House lawn. Her example inspired millions of Americans and soon families from California to New York were plowing, seeding, watering and weeding gardens in backyards, baseball fields, empty parking lots and schoolyards. Together, these gardens produced nearly forty percent of produce consumed in the United States during the war.

Fifty years later, Hillary Clinton had a small garden planted on the White House roof that included tomatoes, squash, cucumbers, peppers and herbs for the first family. And, in the spring of 2009, Michelle Obama and a group of fifth graders planted a large kitchen garden on White House grounds. By 2010, the Obama’s garden included more than 55 varieties of vegetables, including, arugula, cilantro, tomatillo, hot peppers, spinach, chard, collards, black kale and lettuce, along with berries, herbs and two beehives for honey. 

Food policy advocates were thrilled to learn of the Obama’s kitchen garden. “A garden like this is one of those small gestures that is powerfully symbolic,” Michael Pollan said in an interview with ABC News. “At a time of economic crisis, a garden can provide a surprisingly large amount of fresh, healthy produce. But, just as important, it teaches important habits of mind — helping people to reconnect with their food, eat more healthily on a budget and recognize that we're less dependent on the industrial food chain, and cheap fossil fuel, than we assume.”

For her part, Michelle Obama said, "I take great pride in knowing that this little garden will live on as a symbol of the hopes and dreams we all hold of growing a healthier nation for our children.” 

And while Trump continues to imperil human lives and the dignity of the American presidency with his belligerence, vindictiveness, incompetence, and malignantly narcissistic insanity, Melania Trump should be applauded for preserving Michelle Obama’s kitchen garden legacy — a tiny bright spot amid the dark clouds of racism, collusion, and nuclear brinkmanship swirling around the colossal wreckage of  Trump’s failed presidency.

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