Michelle Obama promotes buying from local farmers

Michelle ObamaAfter planting a garden that has captured the world’s fancy, first lady Michelle Obama on Thursday took her crusade for healthy food to a new farmers market near the White House.

“I have to say, I’ve never seen so many people so excited about fruits and vegetables,” she said.

She urged turning to local farmers, and their markets, to put food on the table.

After 10 minutes of remarks to a roaring, rain-drenched crowd of a few hundred people, she put her money where her mouth is. She dropped $28 on produce and dairy products.

Her shopping list was led by a pint of “patriotic potatoes,” which are red, white and blue. Next: two pints of cherry tomatoes, four Asian pears, two bunches of Tuscan kale, a dozen eggs, a quart of chocolate milk and a wheel of Camembert cheese.

As she shopped, she wore a lei of marigolds and hot peppers, a gift from a vendor.

Obama said the garden that she and local schoolchildren planted ? it has produced 430 pounds of food so far ? has been “one of the greatest things that I’ve done in my life.” She said it warms her heart to hear that local kids are sharing what they’ve learned from the garden with their families. The food goes to the White House kitchen and to Miriam’s Kitchen, which feeds homeless people.

The first lady said wherever she goes in the world, in meetings with kings, queens and prime ministers, they always ask about one thing or another: her garden or the family’s Portuguese water dog, Bo.

The venue was opened Thursday by FRESHFARM Markets, a nonprofit with nine area markets offering vegetables, fruits, flowers, meat and seafood from Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia, Delaware and Pennsylvania.

It offers “producer only” foods, those locally grown or raised. “You can’t go to Costco and buy bananas and sell them here,” said Pat Lute, a publicist for FRESHFARM.

Obama said she became interested in healthy eating because of her “two beautiful girls,” since as a working mother take-out food had become a staple. It was quick, easy and the girls approved. “We did what was easiest and what kids liked, because you didn’t want to hear them whining,” she said.

The market is in the 800 block of Vermont Avenue NW, in front of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

Obama appeared with Washington Mayor Adrian Fenty and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, who said his department just launched a $4.5 million-plus program to promote farmers markets.

On hand were federal workers, farmers and foodies. Chef Jose Andres, 40, applauded the first lady’s visit and said he was reminded of the French gourmand Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin, who was famous for saying, “Tell me what you eat, and I will tell you who you are.”

Andres, who has a cooking show on PBS called “Made in Spain,” said he is “supporting farmers markets all my life” and wondered why it has taken so long for them to become so popular.

(c) 2009, Tribune Co. Source: McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.