Michelle Obama speaks on new book ‘American Grown,’ encourages us to reconnect with family and community

FIRST LADY MICHELLE OBAMA IN THE WHITE HOUSE KITCHEN GARDEN

First lady Michelle Obama participates in a journalist round table with online womens outlets to discuss her book 'American Grown: The Story of the White House Kitchen Garden and Gardens Across America,' in the White House Kitchen Garden, June 5, 2012. TheGrio's Sophia Nelson sits on the far right. (Official White House Photo by Lawrence Jackson)

Words of wisdom from the  first lady

At the special round table held yesterday, each reporter was allowed to ask one question about the book or some aspect of the first lady’s key policy initiatives. TheGrio asked the following question of Michelle, which seemed to stir everyone gathered, because it hit us all where we live — we all mourn our lack of time, and share a deep desire to reconnect to our families and one another.

theGrio: Mrs. Obama, congrats on your new book. I read it last night before bed. (Laughter.) As I travel around and I talk to people around the country, we all feel a little disconnected from what’s important. And I’ve heard you talk about this. Talk to us about how we can use the garden as a centerpiece of reconnecting our lives to not only our families and our kids, but maybe even to the community and kind of hearken back to a time of — I don’t want to say a Leave it to Beaver-type world — but say just a little bit about the family actually reconnecting, not at the dinner table, but through doing an activity like gardening. What do you think about that?

Mrs. Obama: It’s an excellent question. The beauty of gardening is that it’s not subject to our desire to have things instantly. I mean no matter what we want it takes time to grow something, and no one has figured out a way how to speed up that process, fortunately.

It’s a part of nature. Things grow. They need to be nurtured, and just the act of tending to a garden, it slows us down. It’s not within our control. No matter how much we think we have control over things, all you need to do is try to grow a tomato plant or work hard on a bed, and then you get a hard rain and it just messes everything up. Or you spend time cultivating that perfect green pepper only to pick it and cut and it doesn’t taste the way you thought it would taste.

So gardens, gardening — that act calms us down, and it requires a level of nurturing and conversation. I talk to my girls about this all the time, and I tell kids this — I say, “Would you ever think about watering a plant with soda?” And they think, “Well, of course, not, that’s silly.” The idea of that is just ridiculous. But I say a plant is a living thing and it requires care. You can’t forget it. You have to water it. You have to take care of it, or it dies. And it’s more fragile, so it will respond more quickly to our abuse.

But the body — our bodies are going through the same process. We’re just more resilient as human beings so we can drink soda after soda after soda and it may take years, but something will happen. We are slowly eroding ourselves. So it takes time to nurture your bodies.

And when you read the stories about the community gardens that we highlight, which is one of the reasons why I thought it was important not just to make this a book about the White House kitchen garden, but to talk about all that gardening means to so many different communities across this country — communities that have found a way to reconnect to that tradition that was our tradition of community gardens and victory gardens — I mean, that’s how our grandparents and great-grandparents fed themselves. That’s how they remained healthy.

I talk about this story in the book — I grew up hearing about the vegetable truck that used to come through my dad’s neighborhood in the city, on the South Side. And he’d talk about how good those vegetables were, and how sweet the fruit was, and how he’d steal vegetables off the truck, because they tasted so good. Imagine what that was like to have a truck with food driving down the street. But it was a part of their living.

And I didn’t find out until we started writing this book that my grandmother, my mother’s mother, tended a victory garden in their neighborhood. That was one of those — you know, “I’m building a garden, Mom.” (Laughter.) That’s my mom. It’s like, “Oh, yes, we had a victory garden; that’s how we got our vegetables.” I was like, “Well, that’s good to know.” (Laughter.) It’s really timely now that I’m 48, [and the] first lady — [I] had to dribble out these facts about my life.

Entire communities, I know now, have changed significantly — life has changed. Poverty has just sucked the life out of these communities, but when my parents and grandparents were growing up these were thriving communities. The income level was no higher; it was just that people were more resourceful, and they relied on their own innovation to feed themselves, and to make sure people were much more connected.

Our emotional harvest

I think the first lady nailed the question. She also leaves us with an important consideration: What are we doing with our time? Are we doing activities with our families, friends and communities that make us healthier, more focused, calmer, and connected as human beings? It’s something we all need to think about. Maybe it’s time to start a garden.

Sophia A. Nelson is a journalist, award winning author and entrepreneur. Her book, Black Woman Redefined, has been discussed in various media outlets. Follow Sophia A. Nelson on Twitter at@SophiaRedefined