June 29th, 2012
06:45 PM ET
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“Look at these...beautiful, purple. We just harvested these too.” Sam Kass brushes away the leaves to reveal Japanese eggplants.

It’s a beautiful summer day in Washington, DC. Instead of toiling in a government office building, Kass is digging in a backyard garden. And it's not just any garden; he’s in the White House kitchen garden. Kass is a White House assistant chef, working his dream job.

“I get to come down every night and I’ll harvest something pretty much for dinner. This little thing down here, you see it?” he asks, holding a tiny green pepper. The seeds came from Thomas Jefferson’s garden at Monticello. “It will turn red, but you can eat it green or red. That thing packs a punch,” Kass says smiling broadly. “Don’t let the size fool you.”

The 32-year old Chicago native has known the First Family for many years; his father was Malia’s 5th grade teacher. But he’s more than a chef. He travels with the Obamas on vacation and is ever-present when the First Lady talks about healthy eating.

In addition to having the title of Assistant Chef, he’s also a White House Policy Advisor for Healthy Food Initiatives - a job that has put him in the spotlight as a spokesperson and earned him a spot on People Magazines 100 Most Beautiful People and Fast Company’s 100 Most Creative People in Business 2011.

“This is now our 4th season,” Kass says. “We have a lot of corn. All of the summer stuff. The cucumbers are going bananas. We have beans and squash and lots of tomatoes. We have lots of potatoes, sweet potatoes. The strawberries are coming. The blueberries are looking good. So we’re doing great.”

The garden has been a signature initiative of the First Lady who has used it to start a conversation on healthy eating for children. It’s a learning garden and school groups are frequently invited to visit the garden to touch, feel and taste the vegetables.

“When kids are empowered as actors in this and they get to be a part of the process of planting a seed and watching it grow and preparing it to eat, their minds just open up because they take real ownership in the process,” Kass said.

Kass points to the statistics. “I’m incredibly worried and so is the First Lady right now. One in three of the youngest generation will have diabetes in their lifetime unless we turn this around.”

He acknowledges it can be a battle for parents to convince their children to give up the chicken nuggets and macaroni and cheese and swap them for healthy vegetables. But there are steps parents can take, including sitting down for family dinners.

“The First Family, anytime the President is in town, they will eat dinner as a family. It’s a great way for families to sit down and be a family. It’s critical to getting kids to eat their vegetables too.”

Kass also recommends families try to plan ahead. Take half an hour on Sundays and map out meals for the week so you’re not trying to figure it out on the way home on the fly, he says. And he’s all about balance - having mostly healthy foods, but allowing for the occasional splurge.

Kass won’t disclose the President or First Lady’s favorite foods. “That’s top secret information,” he says brushing off the question with a laugh. But, he adds, the First Family practices what they preach. “We cook to MyPlate and then we go from there.”

With two children living in the White House, Kass says they do build in flexibility having dessert at the end of the week and the occasional pizza and pastas. “We balance healthy meals, but we have fun with food too. We make sure we throw them a bone every now and then and serve them fun stuff.”

The White House Let’s Move team is hosting a “State” dinner for kids in August. Children aged eight to 14 were invited to submit healthy recipes. Winning entrants from each state will be chosen to attend the dinner with Mrs. Obama.

Kass was one of the official judges, sampling more than 100 different dishes. “Kids were coming up with recipes with the help of their parents. They were wonderful. You could just see the ingenuity. Some really delicious stuff.”

Previously - Keeping history alive, one tomato at a time and White House gardens for good

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soundoff (60 Responses)
  1. the truth

    With obamacare, will we each have a private chef and individual garden or are we forced to live in another crap hole?

    July 8, 2012 at 8:15 am |
  2. uggs

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    July 8, 2012 at 3:59 am |
  3. mike k.

    These cukes are bananas. B– A.N.A.N.A.S.

    These cukes are bananas! B– A.N.A.N.A.S!

    July 2, 2012 at 2:45 pm |
  4. Shannon

    Hi umm out of curiosity what is lock out and how do you spot it?I'm a gardener or beginning one any how and was just wondering what that and nutrient defic. looks like.So I may know for my own garden. Thank you.

    July 1, 2012 at 2:34 pm |
  5. Buttpincher

    It's evident that there's a lot of manure at the white house.

    June 30, 2012 at 5:53 am |
    • mike k.


      July 2, 2012 at 2:43 pm |
  6. MIke

    That's not an unripe tomato–it is a Yellow Bulb (low acid) crossed with (most likely) a Sweet 100. CNN, find some new fact checkers.

    June 30, 2012 at 3:55 am |
    • Kat Kinsman

      I'm a very avid gardener, a huge fan of low-acid tomatoes and I'm also the editor here. There is still green on the shoulders of that tomato. If it were in my garden, I wouldn't pick it yet. I've also seen the wider shot of this - that tomato just isn't ripe yet.

      June 30, 2012 at 9:39 am |
      • mike k.

        boo ya!

        July 2, 2012 at 2:42 pm |
  7. lance corporal

    " the cucumbers are going bananas" can't the obama's do anything right???

    I have a conservative garden and my cucumbers NEVER go bananas, that's just plain gay!

    June 30, 2012 at 3:25 am |
    • Lindsay Hunt

      Studies show that men that are the most homophobic have gay tendencies. Proof? Just about every one of the GOP that has come out with a harsh bill against gay rights, comes out later as gay. Read the research. But then again, you people don't believe in science, only Fox News.

      July 2, 2012 at 11:58 am |
  8. Walt

    Whats growing in the White House garden? HOPEFULLY a new president!!

    June 30, 2012 at 1:04 am |
    • Scott


      June 30, 2012 at 3:54 am |
      • mike k.

        stop yelling we're right here.

        July 2, 2012 at 2:47 pm |
    • Flatsguide

      I know what's growing IN the Whitehouse, incompetence.

      June 30, 2012 at 5:19 am |
      • Blah blah the wheel's off your trailer

        Rightwing envy and jealousy! Obama/Roberts 2012! Four more years suckers!

        June 30, 2012 at 6:36 am |
    • Blah blah the wheel's off your trailer

      Obama/Roberts 2012! Haha! Four more years suckers! Live with it! And don't be so vain! We'll grow some broccoli for you teapublicans since you don't like the Affordable Care Act! Haha!

      June 30, 2012 at 6:34 am |
  9. Daniel

    I wish the author would have pointed out the inconsistency with Michelle's garden and advocating for healthy food and Barack's appointment of Monsanto's Michael Taylor to the head of Food Safety for the FDA. Sheesh!

    June 30, 2012 at 12:11 am |
    • Sara Hadden

      AGREED. You would think Mr. Obama would at least talk to Mrs. Obama about her organic garden. If that's what they grow for their family, why don't they preach what they practice? Label Genetically Modified foods so we're at least given a choice of what we buy and what we want to grow our bodies from.

      June 30, 2012 at 1:23 am |
      • Flatsguide

        Like she really grows anything.

        June 30, 2012 at 5:20 am |
  10. Bobby

    Why do most of those plants show signs of nutrient deficiency or lock-out? Hmm...Leave it up to our government to hire unqualified people to do the work.

    June 29, 2012 at 11:32 pm |
    • Flatsguide

      Our government is a bunch of unqualified people.

      June 30, 2012 at 5:26 am |
  11. Gail H. Ducote

    A divided nation will not stand.

    June 29, 2012 at 11:06 pm |
    • Flatsguide

      Neither can a Socialist one.

      June 30, 2012 at 5:23 am |
  12. JJ

    FYI CNN–you've labeled one of the pictures featuring your own reporter as Michelle Obama. They both have dark complexions, but are not the same person. I mean, really now.

    June 29, 2012 at 10:13 pm |
  13. drunkin mom

    What's Growin'? Pot & Chicken of course.

    June 29, 2012 at 9:53 pm |
    • Flatsguide

      Pot and coke more likely.

      June 30, 2012 at 5:21 am |
    • LB

      Racist pr*ck.

      June 30, 2012 at 6:17 am |
    • mike k.

      drunken not drunkin. then again who cares you're obviously hopeless.

      July 2, 2012 at 2:44 pm |
  14. Russell

    Always amuses me when rabid (is there any other kind?) conservatives insist that there's been no racism toward Obama. Just read some of the posts here.

    June 29, 2012 at 9:12 pm |
    • JJ

      The racism present in these comments is STAGGERING. I'm ashamed to call myself American when I see things like this.

      June 29, 2012 at 10:31 pm |
      • Flatsguide

        We're ashamed to call you and American too.

        June 30, 2012 at 5:21 am |
    • Flatsguide

      He started it.

      June 30, 2012 at 5:22 am |
  15. M.J.

    Well you sure don't see no cotton!

    June 29, 2012 at 8:49 pm |
    • JJ

      You are disgusting.

      June 29, 2012 at 10:11 pm |
  16. Pinkflam

    What? They don't serve fried chicken and watermelon on a daily basis in the messhall?

    June 29, 2012 at 8:33 pm |
    • JJ

      You are disgusting. Just the lowest kind of human, really.

      June 29, 2012 at 10:12 pm |
      • Flatsguide

        No, there's lower. They are called liberals, otherwise known as leeches and ticks.

        June 30, 2012 at 5:31 am |
  17. gstlab3

    Man i bet there is some weed growing in there somewhere.

    I wish he would have gotten busted when he was in school and none of this crap would be happening now with all this division and white versus black stuff that will never change untill the blacks figure out it's not not the white mans fault.

    legalize marijuana and half your problems will go away in the hood.

    June 29, 2012 at 8:04 pm |
    • Burbank

      I was thinking the same thing. And waaaay in the back, camoflaged behind the tomato bushes....

      June 29, 2012 at 8:21 pm |
      • Fossilhund

        Weed was on my mind too, for the White House garden...."Sorry girls, that part of the garden is for Mom & Dad only" :)

        June 29, 2012 at 10:18 pm |
    • Burbank

      So will a bunch of forest fires started by illegal aliens camping out in our national parks growing it for the drug lords to sell to us. I'm in CA and have a Medical M card. It's about 1/2 the price or less of street pot and much better quality and consistency.

      It's amazing that people get busted for smoking it while the very people that bust them can go into any liquor or grocery store and get booze or cigarettes. They are even worse! The blatant discrimination it takes to continue to make it illegal is mind boggling! Maybe that's something that should go before the Supreme Court since Obama continues to harass CA for having Medical Marijuana.

      June 29, 2012 at 8:27 pm |
  18. Curt

    How does the white house keep the bugs from eating the plants?

    June 29, 2012 at 7:51 pm |
    • Rick

      They let GOP members of congress eat the bugs in the garden, as they're all bottom feeders

      June 29, 2012 at 10:01 pm |
      • vet2640

        Great bug response. A lot of good protein for the GOP, affordable health care for the Repubs.

        June 30, 2012 at 2:46 am |
  19. Max Brooks from Florida

    Barry has probably got some dank marijuana growing out there too.

    June 29, 2012 at 7:50 pm |
    • Burbank

      While he has the Fed harass CA for legalizing it for medical uses. I am so fed up with him! He sure dances a good tune for his puppetmasters. So does Romney! Scoundrels all!

      June 29, 2012 at 8:29 pm |
      • Fossilhund

        They truly are scoundrels! I think the price of admission to High Political Office in this country is one soul per person.

        June 29, 2012 at 10:24 pm |
    • mike k.


      July 2, 2012 at 2:48 pm |
  20. SCinSD

    If the first lady really cares about the health of our children she should lead the movement to label Genetically Modified food. Pres. Obama promised this and has not followed through. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zqaaB6NE1TI

    June 29, 2012 at 7:34 pm |
    • Sagebrush Shorty

      Obama has failed to follow through on a lot of campaign promises.

      June 29, 2012 at 7:45 pm |
    • M.E.

      FYI, short of Twinkies which are made of nothing from nature, all food is genetically modified. Y'know when you eat those specially bred heirloom peas or whatever, "specially bred" is a type of genetic modification. Unless you're picking it or shooting it in the wild, all food has been genetically modified through breeding. Not to mention the GM crops you talk about have saved untold millions from starvation over the last half century.

      June 29, 2012 at 8:13 pm |
      • Burbank

        Untold millions that shouldn't have been born in the first place! If people can't feed and support the kids they produce in a reasonable manner up to adulthood, they have no business even having them in the first place! Irresponsible reproduction is how we became overpopulated!

        June 29, 2012 at 8:32 pm |
        • bzcoolness

          Well, given the fact that there are about 7 billion people living on Earth, and there's about 140,000,000 cubic kilometers of land, I don't think we're going to be running out of space soon. If all else fails, I call the northern hemisphere of the moon.

          June 29, 2012 at 11:56 pm |
        • LB

          Yes there is a lot of land, but much of that is inhabitable. Also, you're not accounting for animals.

          June 30, 2012 at 6:20 am |
      • Rick

        Hybrids and grafted plants are NOT genetically modified. Genetic modification is a process where genes are spliced into a plant through recombinant DNA organisms in a laboratory.
        Hybridization is simply a way of picking plants based on their characteristics and growing those. Grafts are physically splicing one plant to another to get the benefits of insect resistance at the base while having the flowering part above.

        June 29, 2012 at 10:03 pm |
        • Umm

          Everything domestic (grown in a field) has been genetically modified over the past hundred thousand years by humans. We just know how to do it faster now using newer scientific discoveries.

          June 29, 2012 at 11:37 pm |
    • CB

      Go ahead and vote for Romney, I am sure that he will take care of it. RIght after he dismantles the EPA and the FDA.

      June 29, 2012 at 8:20 pm |
      • Flatsguide

        Both worthless organizations, just like the Democrats.

        June 30, 2012 at 5:28 am |
    • liberal disease

      he also promised to bring the country together and he has purposely torn it apart

      June 29, 2012 at 9:45 pm |
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