The White House "kitchen garden" is intended to be educational and to promote healthy eating, not to be statement on the virtues of organic vs. non-organic farmer, White House Assistant Chef Sam Kass said repeatedly Monday when he hosted a tour of the famous garden for members of North American Agricultural Journalists.
"The idea is to introduce school kids to the concept of vegetable gardens and where food comes from and to start a national dialogue on the importance of eating healthy," he said. "It is not, and was never intended to be a statement about the organic food."
He said organic certification has not been applied for and will not be applied for, even though the gardeners do not use synthetic fertilizers or pesticides.
"Part of the move away from chemical pesticide use is the fact that we have literally dozens of small children touring this garden, walking through it and touching the plants," he said. "We're careful."
Kass said a problem with cabbage cut worms has been handled thus far by simply plucking the worms off the plants.
And he acknowledged that there are a lot of manhours tied up in that garden.
About 15 volunteers come out every Tuesday to weed, water and harvest and spend most of the afternoon in the garden, he said.
"Now your average person would not have to put in that many hours," he said. "This garden is always on camera so it really has to look nice. In your home garden, you could tolerate a few more weeds and plants that aren't so lush."
Last years White House garden provided about 1,000 pounds of fresh vegetables on about 1,100 square feet of space, Kass said.
Some plants for the garden are grown from seed in the White House greenhouses and transplanted at the correct time to the garden. Other crops are sown directly into the garden soil.
Kass said hoop houses placed over the garden plot enabled the White House to harvest crops such as lettuce, spinach, turnips, chard and carrots all winter long.
This year, the garden is about 400 square feet bigger and gardeners will be adding corn, melons, cantaloupe, zucchini, leeks and artichokes to the vegetables planted.
He insisted that the Obamas do eat from the garden.
"They eat what they preach," he said. "There are always veggies on the plate."
One of the great things about the garden, he said, is the worldwide attention it has drawn to the issue of healthy eating.
"It has surprised even Mrs. Obama that it has been the hot topic in other countries," he said. "She said the garden seems to be all that anyone wants to hear about." He laughed. "The garden and Bo."
He said his big surprise was in learning just how much food you can grow in a small space.
But it is, he acknowledged, a lot of very hard work and he can certainly see why urban dwellers with busy careers would rather buy from the supermarket or the farmers market.
"I have the utmost respect for farmers and their willingness to work this hard to feed the world," he said. "Part of the goal of this project is to foster that understanding and respect in today's schoolchildren."