Review: American Grown by Michelle Obama

American Grown: The Story of the White House Kitchen Garden and Gardens Across America

Michelle Obama

272 pages

Published in May 2012 by Crown Publishing

Source: Library

And the more I learned about this problem, the more I came to believe that we could solve it. This isn’t like putting a man on the moon or inventing the cell phone. It doesn’t take some stroke of genius or feat of technology. We have everything we need, right now, to help our kids lead healthy lives. Rarely in the history of this country have we encountered a problem of such magnitude and consequence that is so eminently solvable. So instead of just talking about this issue, or worrying and wringing our hands about it, we decided to get moving.

In March of 2009, First Lady Michelle Obama, along with various White House staff and volunteers, broke ground on the White House Kitchen Garden (WHKG). The purpose of the garden: to be a learning center for the public, a source of fresh food for those at the White House, and an example of what was possible for others.  This isn’t the first time that a vegetable garden was started at the White House, but the latest in a long history. John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, Andrew Jackson, and Edith Roosevelt are among the group of White House occupants who loved gardens and planted edible plants on the White House grounds.

These are some of the many facts that I learned while reading American Grown.  Horticulture in America has changed a lot since the first White House garden and not always for the better. American Grown is about what has changed and also the beacons of light that are shining throughout the country.

When I started reading this, I didn’t know what to expect. Would this book be mostly about politics or all the things that the administration has done? Nope. I was happy to say that though the author is a very famous American, the people and places she highlights aren’t.

 The book is divided by seasons and readers learn all about the WHKG including the people who help to maintain it like the White House beekeeper and chefs, National Park gardeners, and volunteers. Readers learn from this group what exactly they do for the WHKG and how they do it. The book is filled with photos of the volunteers and how the garden changes through the seasons.

American Grown focuses a lot on the WHKG but the book is pretty much a three-in-one: history book, how-to manual, and profile of community gardens in America. The how-to part of the book gives advice on things like starting a garden, making compost, along with seasonal recipes that can be found in the back of the book.

My favorite section turned out to be the profiles of community gardens around the country. Through the profiles I learned that the P-Patch Garden in Seattle gave away more than 20,000 pounds of fresh produce in 2010 while The Rainbow Beach Park in Chicago is one of the oldest community gardens; it was first started as a victory garden during World War II. The book also made me want to pick up urban farmer Will Allen’s book, The Good Food Revolution, after learning about all the good he’s doing in Chicago. With so many negative stories in the media about virtually everything, I think it’s great to read about so many people who are inspired to help their communities thrive.

You probably can tell from reading this long review, that I really enjoyed this book. My rating: 4 out of 5 stars. Highly recommend.

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30 thoughts on “Review: American Grown by Michelle Obama

  1. I just finished The Good Food Revolution and American Grown is on my TBR stack. You’re gonna love The Good Food Revolution! It’s memoir / food / black studies all rolled into one page-turner of a book.

    1. Ah, Joy! That’s great to hear. Allen was given about four pages in the book to talk about his farm and everything he’s doing. It sounded amazing! I can’t wait to read it.I hope you enjoy American Grown.

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  2. I bet this would be a fascinating book for me. I have had ideas for a garden for several years, and right now my daughter is growing catnip, pumpkins, and roses. The idea that there is a White House Garden, and that there is such a focus on the community of gardeners and cooks really intrigues me. Great review today! I really enjoyed it~!

  3. I’ve always loved the idea of a garden, but like the White House, I’d need mine to come with beekeepers and chefs and other people to take care of it. :-D

  4. I’ve always wanted a kitchen garden. When I was little I was obsessed with growing carrots in the backyard, I think because of Peter Rabbit. But my mom wouldn’t let me. *sadface*

  5. It’s somewhat surprising that the White House hasn’t had a constant garden. I hadn’t heard of this book before. I’ll have to look for it!

    1. Kristen, I think it all depends on who’s in the White House. Many presidents didn’t even bother though a few first ladies planted flowers but not vegetables and fruits.

      If it wasn’t for a few magazines covering this book, I wouldn’t have know about it either.

  6. This sounds like a really beautiful read! We have a community garden fairly close to my house but it’s so hot here and dry during the summers that it really suffers. I’ve thought about signing up for CSA boxes of produce but would need to split the box with someone else as we couldn’t eat that much during the week. I’ve been meaning to do this but just haven’t looked into it enough. I’ll be on the lookout for this one!

    1. Trish, I know what you mean about those CSA boxes! My family subscribes to a program but there’s only so much greens you can eat in one week and we’re a family of seven!

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  7. It sounds like a very inspirational read :) I had heard about the WHKG before, but never explored the topic in-depth. As for CSA boxes, I used to subscribe to one, but they didn’t deliver to my home. I had to take it home by train… I still haven’t decided which other (nearer) CSA I’ll be joining. I can imagine that feeding a large family on CSA boxes is just not feasible.

    1. Well actually the CSA boxes could feed us. It’s just that we don’t eat so many greens which were in the last two boxes. :-/ I’m thinking about rejoining the last CSA program but I’m not sure just yet. Thanks for visiting my blog!

  8. What a great book and a great post. We were huge veggie gardeners until the spruce trees got too big and now we are mostly shade gardeners. And we’re CSA members (have been for years). But herbs and tomatoes can be grown in containers on the deck!

    I’m always interested in people’s comments about CSAs. We get a full share and we’re a family of 2. I rarely have anything left over. We eat gigantic salads twice a day and even though we eat meat, veggies have always been the bulk of our meals. At the end of the week, I make a stir-fry, soup, or stew to use up whatever was left from the week before.

    1. Candace, we don’t eat that many salads except maybe once a week. My last two CSA boxes were a little bit disappointing. It was mostly a variety of greens – collard, mustard. . . plus one or two oranges. The program stopped for the summer and resumes in a few weeks. Luckily for me, there won’t be any greens in the boxes! :-)

  9. I so hope the book inspires people to plant a garden, go to farmer’s markets, or join a CSA. Such better food than the big (fake) muffins at the store.

  10. I’ve been curious about this book ever since I first heard about it. Thanks for reminding me that’s it out and I should get my hands on a copy. I’ve been impressed and heartened by Mrs. Obama’s food initiatives; it’s lovely that the WHKG has gotten world-wide attention and that she’s “campaigning” against childhood obesity. She’s right — it’s a solvable issue and we should all promote awareness in any way we can. Thanks for the great review!

  11. I have vague plans of putting a vegie garden in a wasted space in my back yard. To be honest most times I try growing something in pots I ended up killing them so I think that I might be aiming a bit high!

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