Michelle Obama photo

Remarks by the First Lady at the Department of Agriculture

February 19, 2009

MRS. OBAMA: Thank you so much. Thank you. You all take a load off your feet. (Laughter.)

First of all, I want to thank Secretary Vilsack for that very moving introduction for me. It is an honor for me to serve in this capacity, and coming to these departments, like I've been doing, is probably one of the -- next to hanging out with Malia and Sasha -- (laughter) -- is probably one of the most valuable things that I think that I can do.

We're so lucky to have Secretary Vilsack. I got to know him on the campaign trail; spent a lot of time in Iowa. He brings to this job a lifetime of public service in one of the greatest states in this country, which has become one of my favorite states, Iowa. (Laughter.) You get to know Iowa. When you're running for President, you spend a lot of time in Iowa. And it is a good place with decent, hardworking people with some strong values.

And getting to know the state, as I've done, and getting to know Secretary Vilsack, as I have, over the past several years, I know that we are lucky and you all are blessed to have someone who is so committed and knows so much about so many things regarding agriculture. Working with family farms and rural communities, he's going to bring all of that experience to his work here at the Department of Agriculture. And we are grateful to have him onboard. So let's give him a round of applause. (Applause.)

I was also particularly pleased to hear that he's working on creating these wonderful gardens here at the USDA. Did you know that?


MRS. OBAMA: That's a very good thing -- (laughter) -- and kicking off this effort to build these gardens all over the world in all of the facilities of the USDA, because I'm a big believer in community gardens, both because of their beauty and for their access to providing fresh fruits and vegetables to so many communities across this nation and the world.

So to help kick this effort off, I brought a little gift to get this garden going. It's right here in this pot. (Laughter.) It is a seedling. It will be beautiful one day. (Laughter.) But right now it's a seedling. And it's a special seedling because it comes from the Jackson magnolia tree. And the Jackson magnolia tree sits on the South Portico of the White House. And it's a special tree because it was planted by President Jackson in honor of his wife, Rachel, who passed right before they moved into the White House. So I hope that this seedling brings years of joy and beauty to the garden that will be planted here, in the same way it has brought beauty to the White House for 180 years. So please accept this gift from the White House. (Applause.)

So as you probably heard, I've been running around the District visiting departments. And as I've said, it's been one of the most fun things that I've done. My purpose is simple: It's to say thank you. You know, that's something that Barack and I talked about; talked about all the folks who have dedicated their lives, as the people on this stage have done for -- did I hear the youngest worker on here has worked for 38 years? See, I have staff on the back who gulp every time they hear that -- (laughter) -- because they're like 20. (Laughter.) So they can't imagine doing anything for longer than four years. (Laughter.)

But what is true and what America needs to remember is that this nation is built on the backs of you, workers who have dedicated their lifetimes to working on behalf of the issues that are so important to this nation. And before we do anything here in this town, in this country, we thought it is important to say thank you for the work that you've done, thank you for the work that you're going to do, because we're going to need you working so very hard over the next several years. So thank you.

It's important for people to know what happens here at the Department of Agriculture. As you begin moving the policies and programs of this administration forward, I wanted to come by and just remind people of the work that you do.

From supporting the farmers that produce the food that we eat, to managing the school meal programs that give students the energy and the nutrition they need to get through the day, to providing greater access to fresh fruits and vegetables, to giving struggling families the assistance they need to put food on their table, and to protecting our food supply, the work of this department touches the lives of all Americans on a daily basis in ways that sometimes we can't even imagine.

And like many parts of this country, rural America is hurting economically. The President is taking steps to turn our economy around and help struggling families. And the expansion of the Children's Health Insurance Program will insure more children, including those in rural communities, so that they get the health care that they need.

The new investments that will double the nation's renewable energy capacity is going to bring new jobs and economic opportunity to rural communities who will play a central role in creating America's clean energy future.

And the President's plan to address the home mortgage crisis is going to help rural families refinance their mortgages, modify loans and secure loans with more affordable monthly payments. And this effort is not going to just help keep families in their homes, it's going to help strengthen rural neighborhoods and communities across this country.

So there's a lot of work to do. And we have great leaders in Secretary Vilsack and President Obama that we can count on through the next several years. But it's, again, important to remember that these great leaders are only as great as the people who hold them up. And, again, that's where you all come in. They can only do the work that they do because there are thousands and thousands of dedicated federal workers like you who are willing to make the sacrifices in their own lives, with their own families, to devote the time and energy that is so needed to get the work done.

So, again, we are going to need you in the months and years to come. The challenges that we face are serious and real. And it's going to take quite a long time to get this country back on track. So your contributions are more important now than they have ever been.

So, again, on behalf of my husband, on behalf of the administration and the Obama family, I want to thank you for your energy, for your passion, and for your commitment. And let's get this thing planted. (Laughter.) Thank you. (Applause.)

Michelle Obama, Remarks by the First Lady at the Department of Agriculture Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/320271

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