In 2009, the First Lady of the United States of America, Michelle Obama, planted a kitchen garden at the White House. In American Grown we are allowed to share in a story of this garden.
American Grown (Ebury Press) is a coffee table book, but it is a coffee table book that is different. It may have glossy pages of a happy First Lady looking at the camera holding produce, talking to a child or working in the kitchen but that's where the similarities with a glossy coffee table book ends (albeit the family dog sat on the kitchen garden path). This is actually an inspiring book. Think about it. This is a woman who is the focus of US media, her time is not her own, her life belongs to the people her husband represents. It would be fair to say that everything she does, eat and wears is in the news the next day. So, it is wonderful that in what little free time Michelle Obama has, she has started a kitchen garden and that she has promoted across the USA the wonders of growing your own. Now, every gardener will tell you of the rewards of growing your own but very few of us can make that a national movement. We simply don't have the connections but when a political leader's wife says, grow your own, if I can do it, so can you. Then you have to sit up and take notice.
The book is accessible piece of writing, broken down into the traditional gardening discussion of the seasons and the successes and problems of gardening at the White House. Even the White House suffers from bugs, pests and things that chomp vegetables in the night. Obama does talk about her own upbringing, the importance of gardens to her and how the White House is not a stranger to growing your own. There are wonderful stories of vegetables grown in the second world war, off sheep grazing the lawn before the White House. This is great for gardeners who are nostalgic for a time where we did produce more of our own crops in our gardens. It would be easy from therein for the book to just slip into introspective nonsense or cod historical gardening talk but Michelle doesn't do that. She gets down to the brass tacks of garden growing, and at the heart of that is a sense of biodiversity, she discusses soil and compost making, she brings in beehives to the garden and she gets community groups involved. Together they start to become enthused about growing, from mustard greens to corn. The book shows that no matter the space available, you can get growing and that the act of growing can impact on health and enjoyment. That is the essence of this book as she guides you through growing plants to designing a new kitchen garden as the White House enthusiasm for growing your own takes hold. At each step of the book there is a sense of enjoyment. This book, regardless of the fact that it is written by the First Lady, is a wonderful book for new gardeners, for gardeners who may be scared of taking that first step into growing vegetables. It shares with the reader inspiring stories of communities doing it for themselves, such as, Will Allen who founded Growing Power in Milwaukee, Wisconsin whose belief is simple 'to grow food, to grow minds, to grow community'. This again is at the heart of this book, that the act of growing, helps you, helps your community and brings you together. This is something that all gardeners know but something that is rarely written about on such a grand scale. This is the kind of book that inspires young and old to get out and grow. This is a book about community, about family and about how growing your own can strengthen those ties.
We were given a copy of this book by Ebury Press free of charge for review and a second copy to provide as a competition prize.
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