Jun 17th, 2015

Lunch with the First Lady

Amina, Isnina and Lilah on White House Lawn

(Left to right) Amina Abdulkadir, Isnina Hassan and Lilah Monroe recently represented the Garden at the White House Kitchen Garden Harvest

It’s been two weeks since Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden sent Amina Abdulkadir and Lilah Monroe to help with the season’s first harvest in the White House Kitchen Garden — yet the two still can’t quite believe it. As Amina said: “It’s not every day you meet the First Lady!”

Amina, a fourth-grader at Ridge Elementary, and Lilah, a fifth-grader at Springfield Park Elementary, represented Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden at the Let’s Move! event, celebrating First Lady Michelle Obama’s national initiative to get kids moving and eating healthy food. The day was also designed to highlight the importance of pollinators.

Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden sent the two students and one adult chaperone at the invitation of the Institute of Museum and Library Services as part of Let’s Move! Museums & Gardens. Amina and Lilah are friends and have attended the Garden’s Green Adventures Summer Camps where they participated in activities including planting, harvesting and eating fresh veggies. I went along as the Garden staff contact and as Lilah’s mom.

Amina’s mom, Isnina Hassan, was the adult chaperone for the students. The day held great significance for her — Isnina’s family are Somalian refugees. She and her husband spent 13 years in a refugee camp in Kenya, where Amina was born. Knowing the President’s father was from Kenya is a special connection for the family. Learn more in the Richmond Times-Dispatch article Immigrant Family’s White House Visit a Harvest of Memories.

We took sandwiches to eat on the way and had just enough time for a quick stop at one of the monuments. We chose the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial and ate our food in the great man’s shadow as the girls read his quotes inscribed on walls surrounding us. Amina memorized her favorite one: Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.

Isnina, Lilah and Amina at the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial

(Left to right) Isnina, Lilah and Amina at the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial

Since the day was rainy, the girls didn’t get to harvest, but they did prepare veggies picked from the White House Kitchen Garden that morning. They joined 21 other students from around the country in preparing a lunch of chicken and soba noodle salad. The students were split into groups and Amina and Lilah were charged with grating kohlrabi, a member of the cabbage family. Both girls said they were so intent on their task, they didn’t realize when the First Lady was standing right behind them. “She said ‘good job’ and I jumped!” recalled Lilah.

The First Lady looks on as Lilah and Amina grate kohlrabi

The First Lady looks on as Lilah and Amina grate kohlrabi

When all was ready, the students sat down to lunch with the First Lady. Amina and Lilah admitted to being nervous, but said the First Lady quickly put them at ease. “She was funny,” Lilah said. “She asked ‘What is a pollinator?’ and when a boy answered correctly, Mrs. Obama gave him a high-five.” Amina added, “She also showed us how to say ‘butterfly’ in sign language.”

Watch a video of the event:  The First Lady Celebrates the White House Kitchen Garden Harvest with Let’s Move! students.

The First Lady with her hand on Amina's shoulder

The First Lady with her hand on Amina’s shoulder

After the meal, the students and adults toured the White House Kitchen Garden and received a packet of seeds and a small container of White House honey. Both girls are familiar with pollinators as a result of the Garden’s summer camps and visits to Butterflies LIVE! “I think it’s important what the First Lady is doing so people won’t try to hurt pollinators,” Amina said. “The insects are only trying to help us.”

Lilah and Amina in the White House Kitchen Garden

Lilah and Amina in the White House Kitchen Garden

Riding back to Richmond, we reflected on our new experiences: a first trip to D.C. for Isnina and Amina,  meeting the First Lady, and tasting kohlrabi. (Lilah said it was sweet, in case you are wondering.) The day was also a reminder of what we already knew: healthy food and exercise are good for you and they are best enjoyed with friends.

Photos courtesy of Institute of Museum and Library Services

About Beth Monroe

Beth Monroe is public relations and marketing director at Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden. She feels honored to be part of a team connecting people and plants to improve our community.

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  • Carol Durante

    Truly awesome!