Thursday, June 7, 2012

From the beginning, Michelle Obama's kitchen garden has been an overachiever, churning out more peppers, parsley and eggplant than expected, and generating interest that — yes, really — crosses oceans.

Now, the first lady has added a 271-page book, American Grown: The Story of the White House Kitchen Garden and Gardens Across America, to her gardening resume, and Americans can read all about the planting misses that came with the hits, get tips on gardening at home and, she hopes, draw some inspiration that just might change their lives.

The book, released Tuesday by Crown Publishers, traces how a city kid from the South Side of Chicago who became a working mother and then a political spouse found herself fretting on that first planting day, March 20, 2009, about whether an L-shaped stretch of soil would prove fertile ground for a national conversation "about the food we eat, the lives we lead, and how all of that affects our children."

The book is chock full of colorful, glossy photos of luscious-looking vegetables. There are maps tracing the growth of the garden over the past three years, and stories about community gardens around the country. Even a how-to on creating a compost bin.

The book is divided into four sections marking the seasons, and includes a complement of recipes for each.

There are inside stories about planting travails that will ring true with any weekend gardener: pumpkins that wouldn't grow, cantaloupes that tasted blah, blackberry bushes that wouldn't play nice with the raspberry bushes and an invasion of cucumber beetles.

The first lady makes clear that schoolchildren, White House staff and volunteers — not her — do most of the hoeing and weeding.

The first lady plans to donate all the proceeds to the National Park Foundation. for programs that promote gardening and healthy eating, and to help care for the White House garden.

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