First Lady Michelle Obama planted vegetables and plants with children across the country in support of her “Let’s Move” campaign. Established in 2010, the campaign is geared toward ending childhood obesity in the United States.
The First Lady was helped by students from Stetser Elementary in Chester in planting potatoes, spinach, broccoli, carrots, radishes, and onions in her fourth annual spring planting. Five students and three parents participated in the planting from Chester.
“We received a letter from the White House in respond to the letters that were sent in February,” said Janet Baldwin, principal of Stetser Elementary. “We received a response from those letters in September, so we thought that that was the end of it, but it wasn’t. I was thrilled that our kids were able to experience this with the first lady and see firsthand how dedicated she is to promote healthy eating.
“It’s so important for children to garden, raise healthy food, and go through the process of planting, harvesting, and eating,” she added. “I think the message that this whole experience taught all of our students is that if you take time to do something, you will be rewarded for your hard work.”
Other children that participated in the planting were the Girl Scout Troop 60325 in Fairport, N.Y.; Kate Mitchell Elementary School in Ames, Iowa, Sumner Elementary School in Greensboro, N.C., and Bancroft Elementary and Tubman Elementary Schools in Washington, D.C.
“When I was told I was going to the White House to work in her garden I couldn’t believe it,” said Jada Henson, fourth grade student at Stetser. “The First Lady signed the back of my shirt and I remember coming to school the next day and showing everybody that she signed it, of course I had to make sure that nobody touched; they could only look.”
In addition to the First Lady, White House chefs Cris Comerford, Sam Kass, and Bill Yosses were also on hand to help the children with sowing plants.
“When I first heard about us going to the White House I was excited,” said Mia Grobes, fourth grade student at Stetser. “One of the things I remember from that day was talking to the chefs and meeting the First Lady. I helped plant spinach and lettuce with the other students at my school. I was just happy to be there and it’s something I will never forget.”
Throughout last summer the students participated in the First Lady’s healthy initiative by planting and maintaining two 4’ x 8’ raised garden beds featuring a variety of fresh vegetables including radishes, beets, carrots, tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, string beans, zucchini and yellow squash. All of the vegetables were incorporated into the school’s lunch program.
Students took ownership of the gardens and shared responsibility for all aspects of planting and maintenance, including constructing raised beds, mixing soil, weeding, watering and caring for the plants.
Students also took turns researching plant characteristics, selecting appropriate cultivars, designing a plot plan, planting seeds and seedlings, and harvesting the produce.
The program was funded through the Earth Force Southeastern Pennsylvania service learning grant and in kind donations from the Home Depot in Folsom.
The children who were selected to help at the White House garden had written to the first lady about their own gardening experience at school and in their community.
“I was a part of the fifth grade leadership team at Stetser and a lot of people were complaining about the how the school lunches weren’t healthy enough, so we decided to plant a fruit and vegetable garden,” said Romesha Harrison, seventh grade student at Main Street.
“We incorporated what we grew into the school lunches. Once we started the garden, my friend Nahmirah and I decided to write the first lady Michelle Obama. We decided to write her as part of a Black History month project and we wanted to tell her how our garden related to her initiative. We both didn’t think she would write back, but we were wrong about that.”
From the White House, students saw the Capitol and the Washington Monument. The students also visited the Red Room and looked at the pictures in the East Garden Room.
“I never been to Washington D.C. before so to see the different buildings and go to the White House was fun,” said Jorden Henson, fourth grader at Stetser. “I would see pictures of the Capital and the Washington Monument, but it’s better in person, especially since my mom and sister (Jada Henson) was there with me. It was a long day, but it’s something I won’t forget.”
Nahmirah Ishmail, who is now a seventh grade student at Toby Farms, is hoping other students in the Chester Upland School District will realize that they have the power to make a difference in their community.
“When we started the garden, we did it because we wanted to have healthier lunches, we didn’t realize that our program would lead to us being a part of Michelle Obama’s initiative,” Ishmail said. “We saw how she was promoting healthy eating and we just wanted to follow in her footsteps.
“I’m thankful for getting a chance to talk to her,” Ishmail added. “I think what she is doing is great and more people need to follow in her footsteps when it comes to healthy eating. I just hope we made everyone proud. I hope other students in Chester realize that we can do anything we put our minds to.”