10 Surprising Facts About The White House Vegetable Garden

The first White House vegetable garden since World War II has been a resounding success

10 Surprising Facts About The White House Vegetable Garden

The White House is a pretty amazing place. The home and office of the President of the United States, what happens inside its doors can echo throughout the country and alter the course of history. But what happens outside its doors — on the South Lawn, to be exact — also has an impact. It’s the White House Vegetable Garden, and we bet there’s a lot you don’t know about it. 

It Inspired Many Americans to Plant Their Own Gardens

Because Thomas Jefferson enlarged the garden in 1801, it became fashionable for well-to-do families to have gardens of their own, and family gardens throughout the country flourished. During World War II, when the Roosevelts planted their own victory garden, it inspired many more to do so; by the end of the war, about 40 percent of America’s vegetables were grown in victory gardens. 

The West Wing Replaced a Greenhouse

Andrew Jackson built a hothouse to grow tropical fruit on the western side of the mansion in 1835, but in 1857 it was replaced by a full-scale greenhouse. In 1902 the greenhouse was demolished and replaced by the present-day West Wing, the home of the Oval Office. 

It Was Inspired by Malia and Sasha Obama’s Diets

When the Obamas moved into the White House, Michelle noticed that the eating habits of their daughters, Malia and Sasha, suffered, and the family physician recommended that their diets change. Even though Michelle had no previous gardening experience, she got the ball rolling on the garden in order to help her children. 

Local Elementary Schoolers Helped Build It

The garden was built primarily by White House Horticulturist Dale Haney, with some help from Mrs. Obama herself; Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack; and a group of 23 fifth graders from nearby Bancroft Elementary School, who helped dug up soil, plant the crops, and harvest them. The entire Obama family — including the President — assists in the garden’s maintenance. 

The Gardens Are Completely Organic

The Gardens Are Completely Organic

Photo Modified: Flickr/ Angela N./ CC4.0

The garden uses non-chemical fertilizers, made with white house compost, lime, green sand, and crab meal from the Chesapeake Bay; ladybugs and praying mantises help control harmful pests in lieu of traditional pesticides. All in all, the garden cost only $200 to set up. 

Lobbyists Encouraged the Obamas to Use Pesticides

Lobbyists Encouraged the Obamas to Use Pesticides

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After word got out that the garden would be organic, The Mid-American Croplife Association, a lobbying group for agribusiness giants, decided to get involved. Concerned that the garden might inspire Americans to eat more pesticide-free, local-grown produce (God forbid!), they sent the White House a letter urging Mrs. Obama to use pesticides, arguing that more pesticides would equate to a higher yield. 

It’s Visible From E-Street

If you want to catch a glimpse of the garden for yourself, you can do so from the corner of 15th and E Streets. 

It Honors Former Presidents

It Honors Former Presidents

Photo Modified: Flickr/ Angela N./ CC4.0

Along with the usual assortment of vegetables, the garden also includes favorite vegetables of former presidents, including several different types of lettuce, spinach, and cabbage favored by Thomas Jefferson. 

President Obama Forbids One Vegetable From Being Grown There

President Obama Forbids One Vegetable From Being Grown There

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President Obama isn’t a fan of beets, and forbids them from being grown in the garden. The tyrant!

Beer Is Brewed From the Garden’s Beehives

The garden is also home to the White House grounds’ first-ever beehives, tended to by beekeeper (and former White House carpenter) Charlie Brandt. The 35,000 bees help pollinate the garden, and their honey has also been used to brew honey ale, honey blonde ale, honey porter, and honey brown ale. The beer is brewed by White House chefs using a homebrewing kit purchased by President Obama himself, and it’s served at White House events.