A food bill we need
By Michelle Obama
Monday, August 2, 2010
Reprinted from The Washington Post
Last spring, a class of fifth-grade students from Bancroft Elementary School in the District descended on the South Lawn of the White House to help us dig, mulch, water and plant our very first kitchen garden. In the months that followed, those same students came back to check on the garden’s progress and taste the fruits (and vegetables) of their labor. Together, they helped us spark a national conversation about the role that food plays in helping us all live healthy lives.
For years our nation has been struggling with an epidemic of childhood obesity. We’ve all heard the statistics: how one in three children in this country are either overweight or obese, with even higher rates among African Americans, Hispanics and Native Americans. We know that one in three kids will suffer from diabetes at some point in their lives. We’ve seen the cost to our economy — how we’re spending almost $150 billion every year to treat obesity-related conditions. And we know that if we don’t act now, those costs will just keep rising.
None of us wants that future for our children or our country. That’s the idea behind “Let’s Move!” — a nationwide campaign started this year with a single and very ambitious goal: solving the problem of childhood obesity in a generation, so kids born today can reach adulthood at a healthy weight.
“Let’s Move!” is helping parents get the tools they need to keep their families healthy and fit. It’s helping grocery stores serve communities that don’t have access to fresh foods. And it’s finding new ways to help America’s children stay physically active.
But even if we all work to help our kids lead healthy lives at home, they also need to stay healthy and active at school. The last thing parents need or want is to see the progress they’re making at home lost during the school day.
Right now, our country has a major opportunity to make our schools and our children healthier. It’s an opportunity we haven’t seen in years, and one that is too important to let pass by.
The Child Nutrition Bill working its way through Congress has support from both Democrats and Republicans. This groundbreaking legislation will bring fundamental change to schools and improve the food options available to our children.
To start, the bill will make it easier for the tens of millions of children who participate in the National School Lunch Program and the School Breakfast Program — and many others who are eligible but not enrolled — to get the nutritious meals they need to do their best. It will set higher nutritional standards for school meals by requiring more fruits, vegetables and whole grains while reducing fat and salt. It will offer rewards to schools that meet those standards. And it will help eliminate junk food from vending machines and a la carte lines — a major step that is supported by parents, health-experts, and many in the food and beverage industry.
Over the past year, I have met with community leaders and stakeholders from across the country — parents and teachers, school board members and principals, suppliers and food service workers — about the importance of making sure every child in America has access to nutritious meals at school. They all want what’s best for our children, and they all know how critical it is that we keep making progress.
That’s why it is so important that Congress pass this bill as soon as possible. We owe it to the children who aren’t reaching their potential because they’re not getting the nutrition they need during the day. We owe it to the parents who are working to keep their families healthy and looking for a little support along the way. We owe it to the schools that are trying to make progress but don’t have the resources they need. And we owe it to our country — because our prosperity depends on the health and vitality of the next generation.
Changes like these are just the beginning, and we’ve got a long way to go to reach our goals. But if we work together and each do our part, I’m confident that we can give our children the opportunities they need to succeed — and the energy, strength and endurance to seize those opportunities.
The writer is first lady of the United States.
Photo: First lady Michelle Obama and Bancroft Elementary students planting an herb, fruit and vegetable garden in April 2009. (Lois Raimondo/The Washington Post)
President Barack Obama leads Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, center, and Vice President Joe Biden on a tour of the White House Kitchen Garden following their meeting in the Oval Office, July 1, 2010. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)
It is common knowledge that the President eats from this garden, and when the garden was originally planted the First Lady told reporters that she would make sure he helped with weeding, but this is the first photo that has ever been released of President Obama in the garden.
Last time the White House released a White House Kitchen Garden related photo with President Obama was the photo of the President and Press Secretary Gibbs watching the First Lady’s groundbreaking ceremony on TV from the West Wing!
First Lady Michelle Obama, with chefs Todd Grey from Equinox, left, and Sam Kass, from the White House, gestures during a “Let’s Move!” event with hundreds of chefs from around the country on the South Lawn of the White House, June 4, 2010. The First Lady called on chefs to get involved by adopting a school and working with teachers, parents, school nutritionists and administrators to help educate kids about food and nutrition. June 4, 2010. (Official White House Photo by Lawrence Jackson)
First Lady Michelle Obama greets one of the hundreds of chefs from around the country during a “Let’s Move!” event on the South Lawn of the White House, June 4, 2010. The First Lady called on chefs to get involved by adopting a school and working with teachers, parents, school nutritionists and administrators to help educate kids about food and nutrition. (Official White House Photo by Lawrence Jackson)
School children trim broccoli after harvesting vegetables from the White House Kitchen Garden on the South Lawn of the White House. June 4, 2010. (Official White House Photo by Lawrence Jackson)
First Lady Michelle Obama, chefs from around the country, and a group of children harvest vegetables from the White House Kitchen Garden during a “Let’s Move!” event on the South Lawn of the White House. June 4, 2010. (Official White House Photo by Lawrence Jackson)
* Top Photo: First Lady Michelle Obama addresses hundreds of chefs from around the country during a “Let’s Move!” event on the South Lawn of the White House, June 4, 2010. The First Lady called on chefs to get involved by adopting a school and working with teachers, parents, school nutritionists and administrators to help educate kids about food and nutrition. June 4, 2010. (Official White House Photo by Chuck Kennedy)
Today the First Lady started planting her expanded White House Kitchen Garden, including broccoli and rhubarb, with some help from students at DC’s Bancroft Elementary and Alexandria, VA’s Hollin Meadows Elementary School. Both schools have gardens that the First Lady plans to visit again sometime this year.
Watch her remarks, along with remarks from Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius and a bit of a pep rally from Secretary of Agriculture, Tom Vilsack, as the students eat apples. The full text of the First Lady’s remarks are here.
Today was also proclaimed as Cesar Chavez Day in an Oval Office Ceremony by President Obama. * Top Photo by Marvin Joseph for The Washington Post, Bottom Photo by Pete Souza for The White House.
One year ago today, On March 20, 2009, Michelle Obama and a group of DC Public School students, the famous Bancroft Elementary School 5th Graders, broke ground on a vegetable garden at the White House.
This week, Mrs. Obama was on the cover of Newsweek, and wrote a piece for the magazine on her new initiative Let’s Move.
And then we planted this beautiful garden, 1,100 square feet of pure joy. And that gave us an opportunity in a very sort of non-confrontational way to begin exploring the questions of how do kids respond to nutritious food and vegetables if they’re part of the process of growing and getting involved. That’s one of the reasons why getting the kids in the D.C. area involved in the work was critical. And their response really sent us the message that we might be ready to begin this conversation in a more comprehensive way…So, you know, the time is right.
I think about where we started a year ago with the planting of this little garden. And now, we have this wonderful initiative that has the food industry coming together; and bipartisan support all over the country; parents feeling excited and support it; kids — (laughter) — you know, they’re coming. (Laughter.) We’ve got the professional sports community standing by…This is an issue that can unite the country. And it can unite us with the rest of the world, because the truth is there isn’t a single head of state or spouse of a head of state who I have met who has not been fascinated by our garden…
For a complete recap of The White House Kitchen Garden, it’s impacts, and all unrivaled coverage of all things Obama and food related, check out Obama Foodorama!
At the Let’s Move launch event on February 9th at the White House, Michelle Obama told America that “This is not about politics. There is nothing democratic or bipartisan, liberal or conservative about doing what’s best for our kids. And I haven’t spoken to one expert about this issue who has said that the solution is having government tell people what to do. Instead I am talking about what we all can do. I am talking about common sense steps we can take in our families and communities to help our kids lead active, healthy lives….We have to act. So let’s move! Let’s get this done. Let’s move to get families and communities together to make healthy decisions for their kids. Let’s move to bring together our governors and our mayors, doctors and nurses, businesses, community groups, educators, athletes, moms, dads, you know it together to tackle the challenge once and for all and that’s why we’re here today.”
Two of the kickoff speakers were Mayor Chip Johnson of Hernando, Mississippi, and Mayor Joseph A. Curtatone of Somerville, Massachusetts. They are both mayors who are already moving on initiatives to help young people in their communities lead healthier lives. One is a Republican and one is a Democrat, although when they were introduced by Tiki Barber, their party affiliations were not mentioned. Their ideas carried the day, and their remarks follow:
Mayor Joseph A. Curtatone of Somerville, Massachusetts
Good Morning and thank you, Tiki, Madam First Lady.
It’s great to be here with all of you on this very important occasion.
It’s also, for me, an honor for me to be here with my colleague from Hernando, Mississippi, Chip Johnson.
Our presence here speaks to the fact that this issue cuts across all party lines. It affects every demographic. It affects every community: rural, urban, suburban. It affects us all, now matter what our race, ethnicity, or socioeconomic status.
When addressing the US Conference of Mayors during our winter meeting last month, the First Lady noted “it’s going to take all of us – businesses and non-profits; community centers and health centers; teachers and faith leaders; coaches, parents and elected leaders – all working together to help families make common-sense changes so our kids can get, and stay, healthy.”
In Somerville, Massachusetts, that’s what our Shape Up Somerville initiative is about: engaging community members of all ages and backgrounds, and from all sectors of community life, to transform the health of our community. It takes the leadership and support of an entire community to create an environment that supports children’s health from the time they leave their homes to go to school in the morning until the time they return home in the evening.
In 2003 we learned the troubling statistic that 40% of our school children were obese or overweight. In partnership with Tufts University Professor, Dr. Christina Economos, we began to research and examine the effects of a child’s environment on their weight gain over several years. We launched Shape Up Somerville, a community based, environmental approach aimed at reversing the trend of child obesity.
Our guiding principles have been: Eat Smart; Play Hard; Live Well. Every policy decision is influenced by these tenets.
In our schools, we have instituted more nutrition – and health based curriculum, implemented a robust farm-to-school policy and established a school garden program. We are committed to incorporating physical activity throughout the school day.
In our community, our efforts to increase access to healthy foods have extended beyond on the walls of our schools. We’ve partnered with local restaurants to create “Shape Up approved” menu items. We’ve opened new farmers’ markets and a growing number of community supported agricultural drop off sites.
We are transforming our built environment, for the long term. We have instituted policies and infrastructure changes to support walking, biking, public transportation and access to open space including zoning upgrades that promote smart growth and a long range plan to renovate Somerville’s existing parks and playgrounds.
All of these efforts have had positive impact on the health of our children – their weight and their physical activity.
Shape Up Somerville is designed to improve the quality of life of our residents, and the good news is that Somerville’s obesity prevention initiative can be replicated in communities across the country, with the support of community members.
As leaders, it is our responsibility to develop policies that create environments that improve the quality of life for all that want to live, work, play and raise a family in our communities. We know that health communities are productive communities and the healthy choice must be the easy choice.
I want to thank the First Lady for her leadership, vision and commitment to children and families. We stand with you, Mrs. Obama. Together we can raise the social consciousness of an entire country to overcome this epidemic and eliminate childhood obesity. Together we can make our cities and towns and our entire nation healthier, happier and more productive. So – LET’S MOVE!
Mayor Chip Johnson of Hernando, Mississippi
Well I am honored to be here, and I thank you very much for inviting me. I am here to represent the City of Hernando and the great State of Mississippi.
You may wonder why a mayor is up here. I want to talk about things mayors can do, and boards of aldermen and council people. There are things that we can initiate. One of those things is partnerships. I found that the State Board of Health – the Health Department, they want to work with us. They have all the knowledge but they don’t quite know how to get it to the people and that is generally what we are good at, is getting the word to the people. So we partner with those people. We partner with our Boards of Education. We partner with groups like the National League of Cities, and Robert Wood Johnson to train other mayors how to do this. There are lots of partnerships we can form. And I’d like to talk about those, but I’m not going to talk about all of them today.
In a minute you are going to hear Mayor Curtatone come up and speak. You’re going to see there’s some differences between us. First thing you are going to notice is that I don’t have an accent and he does (laughter!). The next thing you will notice is that he comes from a large city in the northeast. I come from a small town in the south. The other thing is, as was mentioned earlier, we come from different political parties, but I think on this childhood obesity initiative we are in lockstep and we are going to work together. And I think that is something the entire country is going to be in lockstep on regardless of which side of the aisle we come from, we all want our children to grow up and be healthy and live just as long, if not longer than we are going to live. And that is what this is all about.
And while we are at it, we might just accidentally balance the budget. Y’all may wonder why I say that. Just In my little state, right now we are spending $982 million a year, almost a billion dollars a year, on obesity-related illnesses. $580 million of that are Medicare and Medicaid – those are our tax dollars. But that makes you wonder where the other $400 million is. That is paid for with insurance premiums and that insurance is paid for by businesses in higher premiums. So this will make everything better, if we can just get this under control. It is a lot of money. I think the paper today said $142 billion a year, nationwide, is spent on obesity-related illnesses. That is why this is important.
In USA Today I saw the First Lady was quoted saying we need to quit quoting statistics, which I was just doing, she said we need to quit and just get going. What I’d like to do is just cite a few examples of how a small town like Hernando got going. You just can’t do it all. We are probably 5% towards the goal in our town. People are looking and saying you are doing a lot of things, but we are nowhere near where we need to be. Some of the things we did where we just got going…
In August of last year we decided we were going to do a Farmers Market. Everybody said well it’s too late in the season, let’s wait until next year and we said no, let’s just get going and do it now. So we started and within 8 weeks we had 23 vendors, then that gave us the whole winter to figure out what we had done wrong and the next season was just incredible. So we have a great Farmers Market now because we just did it.
We started a community garden last year and it got off to a rocky start. I had to get my neighbor to bring his tractor down there to till it up and got all the people in the neighborhood together. And we had some hiccups, but people were eating out of that garden, and we put it on the edge of one of our poorer neighborhoods. Now we have had all winter to figure out what we did wrong and how we can make it better so this is going to start the second year and we’ll move forward.
We didn’t have any youth sports to speak of in our town, so we started a youth basketball league. People said “how can you do that?”, you don’t have a gym. Well, we share facilities. We can’t afford to build a gym. So we got to the school to let us have youth basketball in that there. I’m plugging someone, there is a group called NPLAN that is funded through the Robert Wood Johnson. They have some model policies for how you can share that liability, because people always worry about liability. I get tired of hearing about liability, frankly. I just think we should do things. There are ways to get past that so we can all share these facilities that are there.
We started a soccer league. We didn’t have any land to play soccer on because fall soccer is the same time as fall football. And we couldn’t kick the football guys off the football field. So we just found a guy in the neighborhood who had a vacant piece of land who said we could lease it for a dollar a year. So you just find these innovative partnerships that you do with no money, because we don’t have any money. We just do what we can do.
We have been installing walking paths and we are doing it with grant money. And we do these one at a time. We look for these Wildlife and Fisheries grants and you can just do those one at a time, but we are piecing it in there. You can do things as simple as finding 100 linear feet of sidewalk that needs to be replaced in an old neighborhood. You can do a fund raiser; 100 feet of sidewalk doesn’t cost much, and people will come out to help. But you have to start somewhere.
And a lot of it has to do with policies. Myself and Mayor Curtatone are not going to be here forever. They will throw us out one of these days. The policies are what stay though. So you have to have those policies in place. And we put in a policy in place mandating sidewalks in all new developments and redevelopments in 2001. We have miles and miles of sidewalks in our town now that were paid for by the developers and not out of tax dollars. Those type of policies work.
Secretary Sebelius was quoted this morning in the paper saying that we should involve not just the kids but their parents. I agree with that absolutely. And one thing we have done is, almost all of you have state health departments that have this program called Body Works. You can send your people up there and get them trained in Body Works program and come back and start it in your town, and we are doing that. We call it HEAL – Healthy Eating and Active Living in Hernando. And we have 40 people in our small town attending that every week, and some of them are bringing their children. We are not putting them on a diet, we are just teaching healthy lifestyles. So it’s all about partnerships and I am excited that we are all here partnering on this.
What I think we are supposed to be doing as mayors, is not telling people to be healthy, that is a private decision and I absolutely believe in that, but what we have to do is to create an atmosphere and an opportunity for good health and that’s what we are going to move forward and do.
The event was emceed by former NFL superstar and current sportscaster Tiki Barber. Others who came to the podium to help with the kickoff included an accomplished doctor, a Republican mayor, a Democratic mayor, and even an award-winning urban farmer. All were eloquent and insightful, but the real star of the show was a 12 year old named Tammy Nguyen, who introduced the First Lady.
If the name Tammy Nguyen is unfamiliar to you, you are not alone. This was her first-ever nationally televised speaking engagement. As Tiki Barber explained in calling Tammy to the podium, “My next guest is a great success because [Tammy] had the great privilege of helping Mrs. Obama plant her garden when she was in 5th Grade at Bancroft Elementary.”
Here’s what Tammy had to say:
Good Afternoon. My name is Tammy Nguyen. I’m 12 years old and I attend 6th grade at Deal Middle School here in the District. Today I’d like to say something about change and the way it happens. As you can see, a lot has changed for me. I’ve moved on from Bancroft Elementary to a new middle school where I’m at the bottom, not the top, of the grades. I have new teachers, friends, classes, and assignments. I couldn’t really do much about this kind of change. It just happens to you as you get older.
But another big change in my life since last year has come because of a partnership my classmates and I at Bancroft Elementary had with Mrs. Obama and the White House. My 5th grade class was invited to help dig, plant, harvest, cook and eat vegetables from the White House kitchen garden. We picked the peas right off the vines and popped almost as many in our mouths as we put in the bowls. We discovered how delicious vegetables can be, and we started to notice that colorful world Chef Sam introduced us to at harvest time. At school we researched vegetables, where they came from, where they traveled to, and their many varieties. We cared for them in our own school garden, and were proud to show them off when Mrs. Obama came and even helped us plant seedlings from her house, “down 16th Street.” From these experiences my friends and I have learned a lot about eating healthy foods and making the right choices. We’ve learned skills that will last a lifetime and our lives will last a lot longer.
As for change, sometimes it doesn’t happen, and I’m kind of glad about that. My 5th grade classmates and I plan to keep that color on the plate, and I don’t mean M & M’s! I am really glad that Mrs. Obama is interested in continuing to teach kids about eating healthy and making good food choices. Another thing that has not changed is what I said to Mrs. Obama when she visited my school last year: Mrs. Obama, you are an inspiration to us. Thank you for motivating us and including us in this exciting garden project.
Ladies and Gentlemen, it is an incredible honor for me to introduce someone who has done and been so much for me, my friends, my school, and my family: the First Lady of the United States, Mrs. Michelle Obama.
Tiki Barber attributed Tammy’s success to the time she has been privileged to spend time with the First Lady, but Tammy’s speech showed that she would have been a great success even without the friendship and inspiration of the First Lady. The First Lady herself acknowledged that reality as she began her remarks:
“I want to thank Tammy. Oh, I could just start crying. You’re so sweet and so smart, and you’ve gotten so tall. You’re on your game, girl. Thank you for that wonderful introduction and for all your outstanding work. I mean, it’s important, Tammy, for you to know how much you and your classmates have all played a role in where we are today. Look at this room. Look at all these important people with cameras and lights, and it’s because of what you helped me start at the White House garden. So I’m so proud of you all. And I hope you’re doing well in sixth grade. I know it gets harder, homework’s tougher, but you know, you can do it.”
I want to thank the First Lady so much. We had an idea that we might exchange a few recipes that our parents and teachers have with some you use in the White House …unless that is TOP SECRET, of course! My mother is very happy to see me choosing to eat more fresh vegetables now. Mom is an excellent cook, and she uses a lot of carrots. I even eat them straight out of the ground, after a good washing, that is. I researched the carrot and learned that carrots, like people, have a history. The carrot’s begins in Eastern Asia near Afghanistan thousands of years ago. They have migrated all over the world, changing their color from purple to orange. When you pull a carrot and eat it fresh you can’t help but feel good as you crunch and munch it. It even feels like it cleans your teeth. Here at Bancroft, we are big fans of carrots! We are also big fans of the First Lady. When I describe her to all of my friends who ask, I tell them that she is tall, beautiful, and always smiling.
Tammy also appeared on the cover of Children’s Health magazine with some of her classmates and Mrs. Obama. Their essays were published in the magazine. We have certainly not heard the last from Tammy Nguyen and the Bancroft 5th Grade Class of 2009. In the meantime, Let’s Move!
* Top photo: First Lady Michelle Obama hugs student Tammy Nguyen in the Red Room of the White House before an event announcing a campaign to combat the rapidly growing problem of childhood obesity while Tiki Barber checks his notes before they take the stage, Feb. 9, 2010. (Official White House Photo by Samantha Appleton) This photo was a White House Photo of the Day!
Presidential Memorandum — Establishing a Task Force on Childhood Obesity
MEMORANDUM FOR THE HEADS OF EXECUTIVE DEPARTMENTS AND AGENCIES
SUBJECT: Establishing a Task Force on Childhood Obesity
Across our country, childhood obesity has reached epidemic rates and, as a result, our children may live shorter lives than their parents. Obesity has been recognized as a problem for decades, but efforts to address this crisis to date have been insufficient. My Administration is committed to redoubling our efforts to solve the problem of childhood obesity within a generation through a comprehensive approach that builds on effective strategies, engages families and communities, and mobilizes both public and private sector resources.
Nearly one third of children in America are overweight or obese – a rate that has tripled in adolescents and more than doubled in younger children since 1980. One third of all individuals born in the year 2000 or later will eventually suffer from diabetes over the course of their lifetime, while too many others will face chronic obesity-related health problems such as heart disease, high blood pressure, cancer, and asthma. Without effective intervention, many more children will endure serious illnesses that will put a strain on our health-care system. We must act now to improve the health of our Nation’s children and avoid spending billions of dollars treating preventable disease.
Therefore, I have set a goal to solve the problem of childhood obesity within a generation so that children born today will reach adulthood at a healthy weight. The First Lady will lead a national public awareness effort to tackle the epidemic of childhood obesity. She will encourage involvement by actors from every sector — the public, nonprofit, and private sectors, as well as parents and youth — to help support and amplify the work of the Federal Government in improving the health of our children. But to meet our goal, we must accelerate implementation of successful strategies that will prevent and combat obesity. Such strategies include updating child nutrition policies in a way that addresses the best available scientific information, ensuring access to healthy, affordable food in schools and communities, as well as increasing physical activity and empowering parents and caregivers with the information and tools they need to make good choices for themselves and their families. To succeed, these efforts must be strategically targeted, and accountability should be clear. They will help our children develop lifelong healthy habits, ensuring they reach their greatest potential toward building a healthier and more prosperous America. To these ends, I hereby direct the following:
Section1. Establishment of the Task Force on Childhood Obesity. There is established a Task Force on Childhood Obesity (Task Force) to develop an interagency action plan to solve the problem of obesity among our Nation’s children within a generation. The Assistant to the President for Domestic Policy shall serve as Chair of the Task Force.
(a) Membership of the Task Force. In addition to the Chair, the Task Force shall consist of the following members, or any senior official designated by one of the following members who is a part of the member’s department, agency, or office, and who is a full time officer or employee of the Federal Government:
(1) the Secretary of the Interior;
(2) the Secretary of Agriculture;
(3) the Secretary of Health and Human Services;
(4) the Secretary of Education;
(5) the Director of the Office of Management and Budget;
(6) the Assistant to the President and Chief of Staff to the First Lady;
(7) the Assistant to the President for Economic Policy; and
(8) the heads of other executive departments, agencies, or offices as the Chair may designate.
At the direction of the Chair, the Task Force may establish subgroups consisting exclusively of Task Force members or their designees under this section, as appropriate.
(b) Administration of the Task Force. The Department of Health and Human Services shall provide funding and administrative support for the Task Force to the extent permitted by law and within existing appropriations.
Sec. 2. Mission and Functions of the Task Force. The Task Force shall work across executive departments and agencies to develop a coordinated Federal response while also identifying nongovernmental actions that can be taken to solve the problem of childhood obesity within a generation. The functions of the Task Force are advisory only and shall include, but are not limited to, making recommendations to meet the following objectives:
(a) ensuring access to healthy, affordable food;
(b) increasing physical activity in schools and communities;
(c) providing healthier food in schools; and
(d) empowering parents with information and tools to make good choices for themselves and their families.
Sec. 3. Interagency Action Plan. Within 90 days of the date of this memorandum, the Task Force shall develop and submit to the President a comprehensive interagency plan that:
(a) details a coordinated strategy by executive departments and agencies to meet the objectives of the Task Force and identifies areas for reform to ensure complementary efforts and avoid duplication, both across the Federal Government and between other public or nongovernmental actors;
(b) includes comprehensive, multi-sectoral strategies from each member executive department, agency, or office and describes the status and scope of its efforts to achieve this goal;
(c) identifies key benchmarks and provides for regular measurement, assessment, and reporting of executive branch efforts to combat childhood obesity;
(d) describes a coordinated action plan for identifying relevant evidence gaps and conducting or facilitating needed research to fill those gaps;
(e) assists in the assessment and development of legislative, budgetary, and policy proposals that can improve the health and well-being of children, their families, and communities; and
(f) describes potential areas of collaboration with other public or nongovernmental actors, taking into consideration the types of implementation or research objectives the Federal Government, other public actors, or nongovernmental actors may be particularly well-situated to accomplish.
Sec. 4. Outreach. Consistent with the objectives set out in this memorandum, the Task Force, in accordance with applicable law, and in addition to regular meetings, shall conduct outreach with representatives of private and nonprofit organizations, State, tribal and local authorities, and other interested persons that can assist with the Task Force’s development of a detailed set of recommendations to solve the problem of childhood obesity.
Sec. 5. General Provisions. (a) The heads of executive departments and agencies shall assist and provide information to the Task Force, consistent with applicable law, as may be necessary to carry out the functions of the Task Force. Each executive department, agency, and office shall bear its own expense for participating in the Task Force.
(b) Nothing in this memorandum shall be construed to impair or otherwise affect:
(i) authority granted by law to an executive department, agency, or the head thereof; or
(ii) functions of the Director of the Office of Management and Budget relating to budgetary, administrative, or legislative proposals.
(c) This memorandum shall be implemented consistent with applicable law and subject to the availability of appropriations.
(d) This memorandum is not intended to, and does not, create any right or benefit, substantive or procedural, enforceable at
law or in equity by any party against the United States, its departments, agencies, or entities, its officers, employees, or agents, or any other person.
Sec. 6. Publication. The Secretary of Health and Human Services is authorized and directed to publish this memorandum in the Federal Register.
Sarah Bernardi is one of the teachers from Bancroft Elementary School here in the District of Columbia whose students famously have been helping Michelle Obama grow the new White House Vegetable Garden. Despite all the photo ops with the First Lady, however, Sarah says her own school garden and others like it depend too much on overtaxed teachers and volunteers and sorely need a lifeline.
By Sarah Bernardi
As one of the teachers involved with Michelle Obama and the White House vegetable garden, I’ve been impressed with the sudden surge of public interest in the simple act of children planting seeds. At Bancroft Elementary School, where I work first and foremost as an art teacher, we know only too well the benefits children get from growing their own food.
But I don’t think the public has any inkling how hard it is for teachers to maintain school gardens like the one we have at Bancroft. Despite all the hoopla over school gardening, the truth is teachers engage in these activities at risk of their jobs. You see, gardening is not part of the mandated school curriculum. We are supposed to be teaching reading and math. As much as we believe school gardens offer a multitude of teaching opportunities, schools do very little to support us. Principals and teachers have been bluntly told that they will lose their jobs if math and reading scores don’t improve. We desperately need help. We need someone to take charge of our school gardens.
The kids you see in all the photos working with the First Lady in the White House garden, or making breakfast on the Today Show with the Obamas’ chef, Sam Kass, are fifth graders from my school. One of the reasons I chose to work at Bancroft two years ago was its garden. I had just moved back to the Washington area from South Carolina where I grew things pretty much all year round in my own yard. With visions of sunflowers and big tomato plants dancing in my head, I signed up for a community garden plot in D.C. But the waiting list was long. The idea of living without a patch of dirt to play in was hard to swallow.
Then I arrived at Bancroft. The assistant principal toured me around the school. As we walked through the playground, she casually remarked, “Oh, and that’s the garden.” We passed four herb boxes and nine raised beds overflowing with giant sunflowers, with tomato plants heavy with fruit, with squash spilling out over the sides. There was even corn! Truthfully, up until that point I had no idea schools had gardens. Planter boxes with a few basil plants, maybe, but nothing like this.
As I soon discovered, these remarkable gardens were entirely the result of volunteer efforts. Ten years earlier, neighborhood resident Iris Rothman and her partner-in-crime, Nancy Huvendick, along with fifth grade teacher Toni Conklin, had begun acting on a shared vision of the school as a gardener’s Eden. Iris and Toni fought tooth and nail—cut through government red tape, jumped through every bureaucratic hoop–to make way for outside agencies such as the U.S. Botanical Garden to come in and construct the bones of our garden. Casey Trees, a non-profit groups, planted some 40 trees on school grounds. Last year, Iris had the brilliant idea to start a community garden on school property. We now have at least 30 people on the waiting list for plots.
All of this was accomplished by concerned neighbors and teachers during their free hours. I don’t think the school system ever spent a dime.
I met Iris when she approached me about collaborating on some art projects in the garden. Up to that point, I had assumed the garden was part of the daily school curriculum. It soon became clear that the work Iris was doing with the kids happened after school or in the summer. Iris worked hard to create opportunities for learning in the garden. But she did not have support from the school administration. They saw gardening as an extra-curricular activity. Disrupting the daily schedule was not an option.
The garden at Bancroft Elementary evolved on its own over the years. It was never officially introduced to the school’s staff. No system was ever put in place to utilize it within the curriculum. When I arrived, I brought something new: A passion for gardens and a creative mind. Not only was my schedule more flexible than other teachers’, I did not have test scores to worry about. I was able to weave the garden into my own arts curriculum. And since I teach every student in the school, I was able to expose all of them to the joys of horticulture.
Then came the day when some of my students helped Michelle Obama and Sam Kass break ground for the new kitchen garden at the White House. I returned to Bancroft and told the administration we needed to get our own school garden ready because the First Lady planned to visit. They laughed and told me that while she may have said that, what she actually did was something else. I called Iris.
As in the past, there was no plan for spring planting at Bancroft. No money had been set aside for seeds. No teachers had garden projects in mind. I approached some local businesses and asked for donations of plants. Whole Foods gave us enough cabbage, broccoli and lettuce seedlings to fill five beds. But how would I get students to plant our garden beds during the school day? Each day Iris and I took art classes to the garden to plant seedlings. We weeded and mulched. By the time Michelle Obama strolled through our garden with a beaming Toni Conklin on her arm, things looked pretty lush.
After that I began taking my art classes frequently to work in the garden– planting, harvesting, drawing. The White House dropped off tomato plants and we had fifth-graders show 3-year-olds how to plant them. We don’t have a kitchen at school so anytime we wanted to use the produce from the garden in a cooking lesson we had to convert the art room into a kitchen. When the lettuce was ready to eat we got an after-school group to harvest, wash and prepare it for salads. We set out salad toppings–dried cranberries, sunflower seeds, croutons–so kids could create three-dimensional, edible art projects. We picked herbs from the garden to make vinaigrette from scratch. The students were shocked to learn that salad dressing could be “made,” it did not have to be bought at a store.
Last Spring I signed up for a workshop at the Washington Youth Garden– part of the National Arboretum–to learn how gardens can be used as teaching tools. My classmates were teachers who already had gardens, along with many others who wanted to start gardens at their own schools. Our common bond: a shared desire to get kids busy in the soil. For the first time, I saw just how many people are working hard to create a consistent, citywide school garden program.
Then in the fall, a new D.C. Farm to School Network sponsored a “Local Flavor Week” to encourage school activities around the idea of fresh, local produce. My principal allowed me to put the rest of my schedule on hold to plan numerous events—cooking demonstrations, a trip to a farm, building cold frames. Most were linked to teaching standards. Every one of our 450 kids participated.
Many things became clear after that week. The most important and surprising was that every teacher in my school was excited about students having garden experiences like the ones I organized. Most were even willing to sacrifice precious hours to help. I also learned that there are so many dynamic people eager to work with kids on gardening, cooking and nutrition education. Finally, it became plainly evident that while it is possible to tap into this wealth of resources to build a school garden program, it is a FULL- TIME JOB.
As I said, my new principal allowed me to put everything on hold for Local Flavor Week because she believed in the importance of highlighting these experiences for the students and agreed that all 450 kids should participate. She even paid for one of the buses because the school lacked the funding. We are lucky: Our administration supports our gardening efforts. Many schools are not so fortunate. But even with this unconditional support, the garden program is still a patchwork of volunteer efforts that needs a dedicated individual to transform it into a streamlined resource that every teacher can use to engage her students.
During Local Flavor Week, I still had to teach my full load of art classes even though there were 16 trips and in-school workshops scheduled. Everywhere I went I was actually jogging, not walking. I had to be in at least three places at once on more that one occasion. I had not asked any other staff members to help me coordinate this because none of them had the time. They had their kids all day long. So I was a one-woman show. And I remember thinking, “Wouldn’t it be great if every week could be like this week?” If we had a full-time garden coordinator, that is.
I had so many teachers after that week thank me and tell me that anytime I want to set up something like that again they would love to participate. I wanted to say, “If I can do it, you can do it.” But the truth is they can’t.
It’s not that classroom teachers aren’t interested. They just have too much on their plate. And without gardening experience, they just won’t use the school garden.
For all her great work and effort, Iris Rothman lacks an inside connection to the school, involvement in the schedule, familiarity with the curriculum. She has no power to create or change the curriculum, to implement standards-based activities, train teachers. She even has a hard time convincing the administration to allow her to bring in others who could do all of these things. Fitting it into the schedule would mean more work for administrators who are already overloaded.
“Healthy Schools’ legislation pending before the D.C. Council would require the city’s schools to create a garden program for the first time, to provide training, planning and technical assistance for existing gardens as well as new ones. The one thing clear to everyone involved in this legislation is that, more than anything, what school gardens need is someone to be in charge, someone to take on this job full-time.
School gardens illuminate the connections between food, nutrition and our physical and mental well-being. They can change the lives of impressionable children. A resource this valuable should not have to depend on unpaid volunteers or teachers who fear for their jobs.