This Just In: White House Kitchen Garden Wins Second Term

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We posted this piece back on May 25th. In the midst of harvest season, and at the end of a hard-fought campaign, we wanted to take another glimpse at Michelle Obama’s new book!

We were prepared to not like this book, thinking it might be a photo-rich, thin-on-substance look at kitchen gardens and healthy food. Well, were we ever wrong! A preview copy of Michelle Obama’s first book just came across our desk, and we’ve spent the morning paging through it. American Grown: The Story of the White House Kitchen Garden and Gardens Across America is definitely photo-rich (the images are wonderful, especially the ones with visiting schoolkids), but this book goes into impressive detail chronicling the history of kitchen gardens in America, and tells scores of inspiring stories about contemporary backyard, school and community gardens across the country.

The White House Kitchen Garden is a very visible piece to a larger national effort. In February 2010, Michelle Obama launched Let’s Move!, a nationwide initiative to fight the epidemic of childhood obesity by bringing healthier food into schools and encouraging kids to get outside, and be more active.

American Grown hits the bookstore shelves on Tuesday, May 29th. Spend a glorious Memorial Day weekend planting your own seeds outside, but find time to watch these fun film clips of the White House Kitchen Garden, from its first planting in 2009, through all the subsequent harvests. Then, on Tuesday, storm your local bookstore for a copy of this wonderful book!

Most of you know how much the Land Library loves books on bees, beekeeping, and honey. And so, we couldn’t resist adding this quick clip:

There’s so much good work being done, and so much more to do. The Land Library hopes to establish it’s second Kids Nature Library, this time in inner-city Denver. And we have more than enough books to launch a truly unique Urban Homestead Library for Denver families, gardeners, urban farmers, beekeepers, and the like. Help us make it happen!


For more on White House food initiatives, check out this website with a name you won’t want to forget!

Obama Foodorama: The Blog of Record About White House Food Initiatives, From Policy to Pie


There will be a way, there will be a light

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One of the most moving parts of Ken Burns’ recent PBS series on the National Parks, focused on the Japanese-American artist Chiura Obata, and his life long devotion to Yosemite and the High Sierra. Obata’s first trip to Yosemite in 1927 marked the rest of his life’s work. If you have five minutes to spare please take a look at the PBS clip posted below. It swept us up with feelings of hope and a real admiration for people who fall head-over-heels for a particular landscape.
Seeing Ken Burns’ sensitive portrait had us reaching for a few books off the Land Library’s shelves. For more on Chiura Obata, an excellent volume (full of his sumi ink paintings, watercolors, and woodblock prints) is Obata’s Yosemite: The Art and Letters of Chiura Obata from his trip to the High Sierra in 1927.

In some ways, perhaps even more remarkable is the following book, which tells the story of the Obata family’s internment during World War II. Not to be undone, Obata organized Art Schools in each camp he was sent to, and personally produced a remarkable body of work:

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Chiura Obata’s alien registration card, Topaz Moon: Chiura Obata’s Art of the Internment, edited by Kimi Kodani Hill, Moonlight over Topaz, 1942.

And here’s a very special book, from our Waterton Canyon Kids Library:

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Evening Glow of Yosemite Falls, 1930, Nature Art with Chiura Obata by Michael Elsohn Ross, Death’s Grave Pass & Tenaya Peak, 1930

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Obata teaching a children’s art class, Tanforan Detention Center, California, August 1942.

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Upper Lyell Fork, near Lyell Glacier, Lake Basin in the High Sierra.

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Chiura Obata sketching in the High Sierra, along with untitled painting.

It’s hard not to be inspired by Obata’s life story, and the work he produced. We also love what he wrote in 1965: “You must always see with a big vision, and if you keep your mind calm there will be a way, there will be a light.

Please enjoy this wonderful clip!

Haruko & Chiura

Haruko & Chiura Obata, San Francisco, 1912.

Edna Lewis and a Tradition Preserved

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As a child in Virginia, I thought all food tasted delicious. After growing up, I didn’t think food tasted the same, so it has been my lifelong effort to try and recapture those good flavors of the past.” — Edna Lewis

Edna Lewis (1916-2006) had a remarkable career as a chef and writer of several best-selling cookbooks. Perhaps her most lasting contribution was her lifelong celebration of traditional southern cooking. She kept the tradition alive, and along the way inspired the next generation of cooks to make fresh magic from the local foods of the south.

As many of you know, the Land Library has a 3,000 volume Kids Nature Library in Waterton Canyon, southwest of metro-Denver. One of our most treasured books at the Kids Library is Robbin Gourley’s beautifully illustrated picture book, Bring Me Some Apples and I’ll Make You a Pie: A Story About Edna Lewis.

Edna was born on a small farm in Freetown, Virginia — a farm that had been granted to Edna’s grandfather, a freed slave. Robbin Gourley’s lyrical tale (and her lush and vibrant watercolors) follows Edna and her family throughout the growing season. Gathered fruits, vegetables, and nuts quickly make their way to the family’s table, with the surplus canned for the winter ahead. Every family member is involved, but it’s Edna who shows an early genius for making fun recipes from the simple foods at hand. The New York Times had this to say about Edna Lewis’ upbringing: Growing, gathering and preparing food was more than just sustenance for the family; it was a form of entertainment. Without fancy cooking equipment, the family improvised — measuring baking powder on coins and cooking everything over wood.

It was Robbin Gourley’s wonderful kids book that inspired us to learn more about Edna Lewis, and to slowly gather her cookbooks for the Land Library. After all, if she could give so much to preserving a precious regional tradition, we wanted to reciprocate a tiny bit by keeping her work alive on our shelves!

Somewhere along the way, we came across this inspiring documentary, Fried Chicken and Sweet Potato Pie: Keeping Traditions Alive, written, produced, and directed by Bailey Barash. There’s much more to Edna Lewis’ life than you might imagine. This is a wonderful film!

In 1995, Edna Lewis was awarded the first ever James Beard Living Legend Award, for her creative years in the kitchen, and for books such as these:
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In Pursuit of Flavor, and The Taste of Country Cooking, of which, Craig Claiborne wrote that it “may well be the most entertaining regional cookbook in America“.

Food traditions have long been a happy obsession at the Land Library. Here’s two of our favorites volumes:

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High on the Hog: A Culinary Journey From Africa to America by Jessica B. Harris, and The Southern Foodways Alliance Community Cookbook, edited by Sara Roahen and John T. Edge.

Edna Lewis was the co-founder of the Society for the Revival and Preservation of Southern Food, a precursor to the Southern Foodways Alliance. For more on their ongoing work be sure to visit their website!

And for more on the great topic of food traditions, here are a few of our earlier posts!

Recalling Voices, Tastes, and Traditions (on the great variety of ethic kitchens)

From the Bronx Seedless Grape to the Paiute Tepary Bean: The Food Nations of North America (featuring one of the best books we know!)

The Taste of Place (Rowan Jacobsen’s American Terroir, and more)

Readers to Eaters: Food Literacy & Fun

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Here’s an organization we love! Seattle-based Readers to Eaters was established in 2009 with a mission to promote food literacy by directly engaging children and families to encourage a better understanding of what we eat, and where food comes from.

Husband-and-wife team Philip Lee and June Jo Lee describe their three-pronged approach to food literacy:

–Publishing: We publish books that give fresh and fun perspective on what we eat and how we eat through good stories, beautiful writing, and a deep appreciation of food cultures.

–Bookselling: Our mobile bookstore sells books about food at farmers’ markets, harvest festivals, and at conferences for science and reading teachers, librarians, nutritionists, food activists, and chefs.

–Education: We partner with community organizations to promote food literacy, including our Book-n-talk series with authors, chefs, farmers, and educators.

Readers to Eaters first book is Our School Garden! by Rick Swann, with illustrations by Christy Hale. This beautifully designed book definitely captures the sheer fun of tugging on a pair of mud books and exploring a school garden for surprises, row after row.

And of course, we loved this passage from Rick Swann’s author note:

“One of my favorite garden quotations is from the book How to Grow a School Garden: ‘School gardens are, in fact, libraries full of life, mystery, and surprise.‘ Being in a garden is like reading a good book: You’re never sure what is on the next page, but you can’t wait to get there and find out.”

As many of you know, the Land Library is working hard to establish a Urban Homestead Library for inner-city Denver. Seattle’s Readers to Eaters organization inspires us by their innovative ways of contributing to food literacy in the city. We need to find a home for all of thier books, and for books such as Hadley Dyer’s Potatoes on Rooftops: Farming in the City (also pictured above) — one of the best urban farming books we know of for older kids.

And here’s two more terrific books for Denver’s future Urban Homestead Library:

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Smart by Nature: Schooling for Sustainability by Michael K. Stone (how to connect the classroom to the garden, kitchen, and community beyond), and Kids in the Garden: Growing Plants for Food and Fun by Elizabeth McCorquodale (full of fun projects for the entire growing season).

The Biblioburros of Columbia

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The latest addition to our Waterton Canyon Kids Library is Jeanette Winter’s Biblioburro: A True Story from Columbia, a picture book about one man’s never-say-never passion for sharing stories and books. Jeanette Winter has written and illustrated many books for children based on true-life stories, including Wangari’s Trees of Peace, and The Librarian of Basra. Here’s what she has to say about her latest book:

Biblioburro is based on the true story of Luis Soriano, who lives in La Gloria, a remote town in northern Columbia. An avid reader, Luis understood the transformative power of reading because of his experiences as a schoolteacher. He wanted to share his collection of books with the children and adults in the isolated villages in the distant hills, where books were scarce. Most houses had none.

Luis and his two burros began bringing books to the villages in 2000. He started with a collection of 70 books that has grown to over 4,800, mostly from donations. Now the Biblioburro travels to the hills every weekend. Three hundred people, more or less, look forward to borrowing the books Luis brings.

A small corner of the world is enriched.” — Jeanette Winter

People around here love stories. I’m trying to keep that spirit alive in my own way.Luis Soriano

And here’s another fun picture book, Waiting for the Biblioburro by Monica Brown and John Parra. For more information be sure to visit the Biblioburro blogspot!

Being the book-people (book-nuts?) that we are, we especially love the following three titles from our Waterton Canyon Kids Library — each one affirms the power and value of books across the world:

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Down Cut Shin Creek: The Pack Horse Librarians of Kentucky by Kathi Appelt & Jeanne Cannella Schmitzer, My Librarian is a Camel: How Books are Brought to Children Around the World by Margriet Ruurs, The Library Book: The Story of Libraries from Camels to Computers by Maureen Sawa & Bill Slavin

A Teachable Moment

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The surge of excellent bee book continues! Here’s two of the best, both from Great Britain, and both focused on the special challenges of beekeeping in the midst of busy city life: Keeping Bees in Towns and Cities by Luke Dixon, and Bees in the City: The Urban Beekeepers Handbook by Alison Benjamin and Brian McCallum.

So, here’s a question inspired by Luke Dixon’s Keeping Bees in Towns and Cities: What would you do if a swarm of bees descended upon your local school??

Small children and bees might not seem an obvious combination, but at Charlton Manor Primary in Greenwich they get on very well. The bees live in hives in the playground of this inner-city London school….

The headmaster, Tim Baker, took up beekeeping when a swarm came and attached itself to a wall next to the school’s main entrance. ‘There was panic from staff and calls to close the school,’ he recalls. ‘The children seemed very interested though. When it was collected I found out that the bees were very unlikely to sting when they swarm. I realized how little I and people around me knew about bees even though we had always taught the children that they were important. I was concerned that the lessons the children had got from that close-hand observation of the swarm was that bees were something to be feared.’ To dispel the message of fear, Tim set about finding training for himself and interested staff so that they could set up a hive on the school grounds.

The Next Generation of Beekeepers on Parade:

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There are many flowering plants in neighboring gardens, and there are parks nearby as well, so the bees are not short of forage. As an inner city school many of the pupils do not have access to gardens themselves, so the bees provide an important contact with nature for them….The headmaster is convinced that the bees are of great educational benefit: ‘There are a number of children with behavior issues in the school. They were given the chance to work with the bees. Their behavior has greatly improved and they delivered a talk to the local bee club at its annual general meeting.

Somehow, Bees Aren’t as Scary Anymore:

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The school started with one hive, raised queens, and now has two colonies. The honey harvested is bottled by the pupils and sold to raise money for the school.

As a nice bookend to this story, headmaster Tim Baker reports that another swarm arrived recently and everyone took it in stride. Two of the children helped collect the swarm, and the school’s hives grew by one!

There’s a magic about bees — especially their way of connecting people to the natural world. It’s as simple as that. As long as we’re able, the Land Library will honor these books by giving them a home on our shelves. Here’s two more brilliant bee books we’ve added over the past few months:

Bees: A Natural History, by Christopher O’Toole, and from our Waterton Canyon Kids Nature Library, Honey Bees: Letters from the Hive by Stephen Buchmann, an excellent book for young adults, and older readers too.

Planting Seeds on the Banks of the Missouri

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Buffalo Bird Woman was born in an earth lodge in 1839, along the Knife River, in present day North Dakota. She grew up to be an expert gardener of the Hidatsa tribe, growing corn, beans, squash, and sunflowers along the fertile bottomlands of the Missouri River. In 1917, anthropologist Gilbert L. Wilson published Agriculture of the Hidatsa Indians, a faithful transcript of his interviews with this remarkable woman.
In this book (since retitled Buffalo Bird Woman’s Garden: Agriculture and the Hidatsa Indians), Maxidiwiac (as she was known in Hidatsa) talks of field preparation, planting, harvesting and storage — along with the songs and ceremonies that lead to a good crop. You get a sense of what a social occasion gardening was. When the first green corn was plucked, the women and children would gather, breaking off a piece of stalk, sucking the sweet juice — “merely for a little taste of sweets in the field.

Reading this book brings back a lost world, especially life beyond the garden rows:

Little girls of 10 and 11 years of age used to make dolls of squashes. When the squashes were brought in from the field, the little girls would go to the pile and pick out squashes that were proper for dolls. I have done so myself. We used to pick out the long ones…squashes whose tops were white or yellow and the bottoms of some other color. We put no decorations on these squashes….Each little girl carried her squash about in her arms and sang for it as for a babe. Often she carried it on her back, in her calf skin robe.” from Buffalo Bird Woman’s Garden

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Brand new to our Waterton Canyon Kids Nature Library is S.D. Nelson’s Buffalo Bird Girl: A Hidatsa Story — a faithful telling of Buffalo Bird Woman’s childhood. Full of historic photos, maps, and Nelson’s own artwork, this book beautifully captures Hidatsa life on the edge of change.

tool Buffalo Bird Woman

Digging sticks are still used in my tribe for digging wild turnips; but even in my grandmother’s lifetime, digging sticks and bone hoes, as garden tools, had all but given place to iron hoes and axes.” — from Buffalo Bird Woman’s Garden

And here’s a few more excellent volumes on Native American foodways. There are many, many more on the Land Library’s shelves!

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Native American Gardening: Stories, Projects and Recipes for Families by Michael J. Caduto and Joseph Bruchac, Pueblo Indian Agriculture by James A. Vlasich.
Tending the Wild: Native American Knowledge and the Management of California’s Natural Resources by M. Kat Anderson, Enduring Seeds: Native American Agriculture and Wild Plant Conservation by Gary Paul Nabhan.