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Potato plants coming up in White House garden

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Four varieties of potatoes are coming up in the White House kitchen garden.
(The Hagstrom Report/Kim de Bourbon)


White potatoes are growing in First Lady Michelle Obama’s White House kitchen garden.

The potato plants were visible this week when Sam Kass, the deputy White House chef and senior policy adviser on healthy food initiatives, gave members of the North American Agricultural Journalists a tour of the garden, which is now in its fourth season.

The Obama administration’s attitude toward white potatoes has been controversial. The administration proposed restricting the use of white potatoes in school lunches so that children would be served more dark, leafy green and orange vegetables, but Congress passed a rider on an appropriations bill that prevented the Agriculture Department from restricting potato servings.

The first lady herself joined children in planting the white potatoes, sparking talk in agricultural and circles that the president and the first lady want the potato farmer vote, and leading some nutritionists to question the seriousness of the administration in fighting obesity.

The potatoes occupy only a small portion of the garden, however, and are surrounded by many types of green vegetables, tomatoes, peas, herbs and berries including blueberries, strawberries and raspberries.

The Obamas have eaten French fries on many outings, and have served white potatoes at state dinners.

Kass noted that the garden had included sweet potatoes in past years, and said that white potatoes had been included this year because “it was a fun thing to do.”
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Deputy White House chef Sam Kass with heirloom fig tree.
(The Hagstrom Report/Charles de Bourbon)

The garden also includes a thriving fig tree. Kass noted that when it was smaller, it had been pulled out by a volunteer who thought it was a weed. It was found in the compost pile, and had to be replanted. About four classes of school children go through the garden each week.

There have been rumors that the White House soil contained heavy metals, but Kass said studies showed that was not true, and that “the soil is in surprisingly good shape.”

Asked whether the White House garden, which is not fenced, had a problem with rabbits eating the produce, Kass joked, “if you see rabbit on the state dinner menus you’ll know why.”

He said the first lady planted the garden because she wanted to showcase food

“It’s an ode to farmers,” Kass said, because it shows people “what it takes to sow seeds and feed the country.”

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Deputy White House chef Sam Kass discusses the White House kitchen garden
with agricultural journalists. (The Hagstrom Report/Charles de Bourbon)