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First lady to grow veggies on South Lawn

WASHINGTON – This year, the vegetables served at the White House will be as locally grown as possible – right on the South Lawn.

After a campaign by gardeners and sustainable-food activists, the first family has decided to dig up part of the White House grounds for a vegetable garden. In a ceremony today, first lady Michelle Obama and local elementary students will break ground for the project.

It’s part of the first lady’s promotion of healthy food for her own daughters, Malia and Sasha, as well as for the nation. But like many parents, the Obamas have had mixed results: Michelle Obama recently said a version of “creamless” creamed spinach by White House executive chef Cristeta Comerford still was a bit too “green” for the kids.

More than 100,000 people asked the president to plant a garden on the White House lawn, according to Kitchen Gardeners International, a coalition of gardeners whose mission is to inspire and teach people to grow their own food.

The group’s “Eat the View” campaign to plant “high-impact gardens in high-profile places” specifically urged the first family to plant an edible garden within the first 100 days of the administration of President Barack Obama.

Launched in February 2008 and spearheaded by Roger Doiron, a gardener in Scarborough, Maine, the movement hoped to have the president’s family set the right example in terms of healthy eating – “gardening for the greater good,” Doiron said.

“It begins at home,” Doiron said. “That’s where we start. And if we get a number of people together carrying out these small actions it will speak volumes and add up.”

Since the early 1990s, food-activist pioneers such as Berkeley, Calif., restaurateur Alice Waters and author Michael Pollan have lobbied for an “edible landscape” across the 16 acres of White House grounds.

While the Clintons did have a small rooftop garden that grew vegetables and herbs and Laura Bush made sure organic foods were served in the residence, this is the first full-scale planting on the lawn in more than 60 years – since first lady Eleanor Roosevelt had a victory garden during World War II.

“I’m just so gratified that this idea, that seemed as right as rain from the beginning,” has finally taken hold, said Waters, owner of the renowned Chez Panisse.

Waters said she was especially pleased that Michelle Obama chose to start the garden surrounded by children – a topic near and dear to her heart.

As a founder of The Edible Schoolyard, a program in Berkeley and now New Orleans to integrate organic gardens into schools, Waters wants all children to learn that vegetables and fruit come from the ground, not a store.

“If we make a beautiful place that children can walk though on tours of the White House, we can broadcast that message around the world,” Waters said.