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Sharee Miller on Michelle’s Garden

Michelle’s Garden: How the First Lady Planted Seeds of Change tells the story of former First Lady Michelle Obama’s journey to creating the White House kitchen garden in 2009. I wanted to amplify her message of healthy eating with my book as well as continue the conversation about gardening!

When I decided to write about Michelle Obama and the White House Garden, I had one word in mind: Relatable. How can a child relate to the accomplishments of the First Lady of the United States? How can someone who has never gardened wrap their mind around the creation of such a successful one? I, like many, am in awe of Michelle Obama, and all of her success, accolades, and accomplishments make her seem unreachable, but she is still just a person. A woman, a mom, a wife, and of course like all of us she was a kid! This is why I began my story way before Michelle Obama was the First Lady. She was a kid just like all of us and that is where her healthy foundation began. She grew up being active and eating healthy meals with her family. These were lessons she brought to her own family and our nation!

When it came to gardening, I was surprised to learn that Michelle had no prior experience. I was impressed she would set such a large goal with no guarantee it would work out. However, she knew she could rely on those around her to guide her. She learned along the way with the help of the White House gardeners, Chefs, and staff. I wanted to highlight this lesson in my book. You can learn anything with a little help! I think we all get overwhelmed when we think about doing tasks on our own for the first time so I made sure to emphasize all the help Michelle received while breaking down gardening into its basic steps. I wanted readers to come away from this book thinking “I can do this too!”

Getting children excited about eating healthy food has always seemed like an uphill battle but Michelle believed teaching kids about where their food comes from would be a fun way to get them thinking about the food we eat and where it comes from. Michelle didn’t start the trend of at-home gardening, but she brought it back into the conversation in a big way! The White House garden inspired many school and community gardens as well as many citizens to try gardening at home.My husband and I were even inspired to start a small garden on our balcony. We were able to grow and eat our own tomatoes and they tasted even sweeter after all the hard work we put in to grow them. Food really does taste better when you grow it yourself.

My book only scratches the surface on all the amazing things that happened in the 8 years the garden was actively in the spotlight. The garden grew from a humble plot to a permanent fixture on the White House lawn with raised beds, concrete paths, and an inscribed stone entrance. Many students were able to contribute and learn in the garden each season and share in the harvest, visiting farmers came to impart their wisdom and heirloom seeds were planted in honor of past Presidents. The garden provided produce for the President’s personal table, State dinners, and Miriam’s Kitchen, which provides freshly cooked meals and services for the homeless in Washington, D.C. Michelle even went beyond gardening to advocate for Children’s health. She encouraged President Obama to pass school lunch reform which set higher nutrition standards for food served in schools and she launched the Let’s Move initiative to help kids and their families lead healthier lives. Michelle’s Garden is a great book to start these conversations and learn even more about healthy eating and gardening!

When creating the art for Michelle’s Garden I wanted it to bright and colorful to match the life the characters were growing. Each vegetable and fruit had to be bright and full for flavor. I wanted them to jump off the page so kids would be excited to try them. I also wanted to show every meal taking place at a table. Sharing a healthy meal with family or friends creates a strong foundation that kids will want to continue in the future.  I wanted to show them all enjoying their healthy meal after all their hard work. Whether it’s playing, exercising, or gathering the seasonal harvest every activity in the book leads them to a meal they can share. It was fun drawing Michelle and Barack Obama in a stylized yet recognizable way. I hope their joy comes through on every page.