Eating like an Obama sounds like it would be a tall order, but in fact, you don’t need a presidential plot to reap the benefits of home growing, just the principals behind it. Sure, the Obamas have the vast expanse of the White House grounds to plant their garden, but with a few key elements, even a balcony can have you eating first-rate produce. Are you ready to join the green thumb party and dine like the first family?

We don’t all live in a massive house, teeming full of staff members to look after our every whim as we take care of a nation, but many of us are trying to be healthier by making changes to our diets. The White House Kitchen Garden was born out of that simple thought — a mother looking to find a way to help her family eat better.

The 1100 square-f00t White House Kitchen Garden is the first garden on the grounds since Eleanor Roosevelt’s Victory Garden during World War II.  Although a rooftop vegetable garden was planted during the Clinton administration, and remained during the Bush administration, the current garden is large enough to feed the First Family and heads of state as well, often producing such a large harvest that leftover fruits and veggies are donated to local soup kitchens. Extra produce isn’t the only thing they’re giving away though, honey from the beehives on the grounds is a common Obama gift. (Do you think the queen bee is a democrat too?)

The White House Garden is more than just a source of nutrition, it is also a source of history. It is not historic just because of its notable location, but also because some of the seeds used for the current crops are from Thomas Jefferson’s Monitcello garden, as seen in this documentary about the story of the garden. Jefferson was one of the first to start seasonal growing (the precursor to eating local — before they had a choice). The principal behind seasonal eating, is to eliminate the environmental damage caused by shipping foods, get more money directly to farmers, and enjoy the health benefits of eating fresh, unprocessed fruits and vegetables.

Growing your own food is not only a good way to teach the principles of healthy eating and appreciation of the land, it’s also a good way to spend time together, get exercise and save some money.

Lucky children enrolled in local schools can schedule a tour of the White House Kitchen Garden first hand. If you aren’t lucky enough to live close by, (or you’ve already passed the age limit), the First Lady also offers a downloadable checklist to help grow your own garden through Let’s Move, with helpful tips about when and where to plant your crops no matter what size space you have to work with. Here are a few of her tips:

1. Location Location Location

According to the USDA’s People’s Garden Initiative, a good gardening space receives at least six hours of sunlight per day and has a conveniently located water source. (If you’re like me, that means a well placed window box on the balcony.)

2. The Dirt on Dirt

Your soil quality will determine the health of your crops and the design of your garden (i.e., using raised beds vs. planting directly in the soil) so be sure to test your soil and get the necessary additives, if needed, before planting. KitchenGardeners.org offers some virtual hand holding through the gardening process and some inspiring tips.

3. Plant Placement

It’s important to map out the design of your garden before planting, not just for aesthetics, but to ensure each plant has enough access to sunlight and/or shade, as well as room to grow. Not sure about going full tilt? It’s okay to start small, because there’s always room to grow.

4. Mikey Likes It

When choosing your crops, it’s important to consider your tastes in addition to the practical and environmental concerns. Simply put, don’t grow it if you don’t like it. Planning a menu from the ground up will also help you reap the most reward from your crops (pick items that will work together in meals), and don’t forget herbs and spices!

5. It’s Getting Hot in Here

Keep in mind that some crops do better in cold seasons and others in warm. You might be able to get whatever you want in grocery store aisles year-round, but your rows of crops are only going to grow according to weather, so plan for it.

What can you expect to plant when?  Cool weather crops like peas, lettuce, broccoli, collards, radishes, and onions are planted in early spring and fall, while warm weather crops like beans, melons, cucumbers, peanuts, peppers and tomatoes are planted in late spring or summer. For a full list of what is growing at the White House Garden, go to The WHO Farm website.

For more tips from the First Lady herself, check out her book, American Grown: The Story of the White House Kitchen Garden and Gardens Across America, which includes advice on how to start gardens and ideas to get children to like healthy foods and find more opportunities for exercise. Proceeds from the book will go to the National Park Foundation.

Whether you chose to plant your goodies in a community garden, a window box or a plot befitting of the White House, the personal, ecological and financial benefits of having your own garden are undeniable. Eat better, live better.

Reading the list of health benefits from the goodies in the White House Garden reads like Obamacare 101. The rows of crops are packed with cancer-fighting antioxidants, collagen-producing vitamins (I don’t know about you, but I’d rather get mine from a berry than a syringe), and nutrients that improve vision, skin, brain function, immunity, digestion, and bone and tooth strength, that will help keep the First Family looking young and healthy no matter how much stress they are under. All that, and it tastes good too!

Main photo credit: Angela N./Flickr

Graphic credit: TheWHOFarm.org