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The First Lady Visits Local Elementary School

By Adam Waterson
First Lady Michelle Obama visited East Atlanta’s Burgess-Peterson Academy BPA) and its organic garden to mark the one-year anniversary of her “Let’s Move” initiative. Master Gardener and BPA volunteer Adam Waterson shares his thoughts on the day
First lady Michelle Obama arrived at Burgess-Peterson Academy around 1:40pm on February 9, 2011. Principal Robin Robbins, Coach Betty Jackson, Mayor Kasim Reed, Sen. Johnny Isakson, Superintendent Beverly Hall, and SRT-3 Executive Director Robin Hall greeted her. From there she went to Ms. Megan Kiser’s room, where she ate blueberries with the students and spoke with them about healthy eating for around 10 minutes.
Next up was the garden classroom, where the school’s DeKalb County master gardener volunteers Michelle Rice and I teach weekly gardening classes. During Mrs. Obama’s visit, Ms. Elanja Etheridge’s first graders were in gardening class discussing transportation of food and how it affects the quality of what they eat. They also discussed the way chemicals, such as MSG, trick the brain into thinking that the food they are getting is more nutrient-rich than it really is. Using a hands-on anatomical model, they traced the way food moves through the body as it is digested. The students showed the first lady the seedlings that had been started over the past three weeks. The students are growing gooseberries, huckleberries, and Alpine strawberries. Everyone got a kick out of the students growing a plant called marsh mallow.
The students and I gave the First Lady a tour of the school’s organic garden. As we walked, she told me about her garden and recent harvest.  I told her about how much the courtyard has changed over the past three years. I spoke a lot about the spirit of volunteerism within the East Atlanta community and how nearly every resident is involved in some local project or another. I showed her the beds from Farmer D organics and the beds, fence, and compost bins from the Lowe’s Box Grant, all assembled by community volunteers. After seeing the muscadines and kiwi growing on the fence and arbor, Obama admitted that she had never had a muscadine. I told her about the USDA Organic Snack program and how this had changed the student’s approach to food.
Our first stop was at the butterfly garden, aka the Pollination Station, where we discussed pollinators in the garden. Mrs. Obama told us that her daughter Malia was scared of the bees at first, but likes them now. From there the kids showed her the vegetables growing in our garden: broccoli, herbs, cauliflower, lettuce, cabbage, collard greens, kale, kohlrabi, boc choy, and asparagus. We talked about having a Be Waterwise Atlanta grant and the measurements the kids took. The kids told her about the importance of organic gardening, and explained why we had lost so many cauliflower plants. They also pointed out that mixing kohlrabi and cabbage makes the best coleslaw. She moved on to our cold frame (a miniature greenhouse), where the students have daffodils growing in pots to sell as a fundraiser when they bloom.
She was not able to go see the first edible orchard planted on school grounds in Atlanta. But the remaining two students told her about the pawpaw, persimmon, pomegranate, and jujube trees they had found out there along with many others. After discussing compost and showing our purple potatoes, the students finally stopped shivering and went back inside. We had a moment to ourselves to discuss the new Child Nutrition bill. I said it was not enough, but it was a good start. She looked me square in the eye and agreed.
Principal Robbins told her that the First Lady and I were volunteers, and she was shocked at the work we put into the project. Then we told her about our plans for the future. The Georgia Organics Farm to School grant we were just awarded will let us double the number of beds in the garden. It also pays for teacher training, field trips to organic farms and chef-led demos and tastings. We also hope that one day Sodexho, the cafeteria supplier, will be able to buy produce from us in order to make school lunches hyper-local.
Once we were inside, Mrs. Obama told the kids to study hard, eat healthy food at home, and to really appreciate all the hard work that volunteers were doing to make their lives better. She gave us all hugs, and left to go to Alpharetta, where she was expected for a speech. She was very serene and down to earth. She radiates confidence like royalty. I was also really struck by how gorgeous she is. I am honored that she chose Burgess-Peterson Academy to visit in honor of her one-year anniversary in the “Let’s Move” Campaign and National Green Week.

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