The White House

Office of the First Lady

Remarks by the First Lady at a Visit to thank USDA Employees

U.S. Department of Agriculture
Washington, D.C.

11:48 A.M. EDT

MRS. OBAMA:  Hi, good morning.  (Applause.)  Oh, my goodness, you all look so good this Friday morning.  It is a pleasure to be back, because I got to come here a couple of years ago to say hello.  Well, it's time to re-up the hello.  (Laughter.)  So I wanted to come and see you all.
 
I want to start by thanking Secretary Vilsack, not just for his kind introduction and the wonderful offer to have my picture here -- which we won't do that -- (laughter) -- but for his outstanding service of the Department of Agriculture.  And Tom has been here from the very beginning of this administration.  And let me just say from day one, he has led with passion and vision and an unyielding commitment to the mission of this Department. 
 
And Barack and I got to know Tom during our Iowa days.  And I just want to say, just as a personal note, that Tom -- more than anything else -- is a good man.  And he has been such a loyal, dependable and honest person.  He and his family are terrific.  He represents not just this agency, but this administration and this country.  And we are just proud to have him on our team.  So let's give Tom a round of applause.  (Applause.)  

Back when my husband appointed Tom as Secretary, he noted that when President Lincoln created the USDA back in the 1800s, he called it the “people’s department" -- the "people's department."  And I actually think that’s a pretty good description of what Secretary Vilsack and all of you at USDA have achieved over these past four years.  I think that you all have truly made this department the people’s department.  And that’s really why I’m here today.  I'm here to just thank you, truly thank you for the terrific work that you do every single day on behalf of the American people. 
 
Thank you for supporting our farmers and our ranchers and working tirelessly to market their products across the globe -- which, by the way, helps to create jobs right here at home.  Thank you for protecting our environment, promoting renewable energy sources that will power our country for generations to come.  So that's an impact on not just us, but our children and our grandchildren and their children.  Thank you for that work.  Thank you for lifting up rural communities.  And thank you for keeping our food safe.  And I think this is something most of the country doesn’t realize -- the work that you do here to protect the environment, you keep our food safe, working to end hunger, improve nutrition for families across this country.
 
And the nutrition issue, as Tom mentioned, as you all know, is something near and dear to my heart not just as First Lady, but as a mother.  In fact, one of the first things that I did, as you know, as First Lady, was to plant the garden at the White House.  And it's really pretty.  (Laughter.)  I hope you guys get a chance -- it's beautiful now.  It rained a couple of days.  Thank you.  (Laughter.)  And the idea with planting the garden wasn't just to encourage kids to eat more vegetables.  I also wanted to teach them about where their food comes from.
 
I think you've known this -- we see this as we traveled around the country -- some kids have never seen what a real tomato looks like off the vine.  They don't know where a cucumber comes from.  And that really affects the way they view food.  So a garden helps them really get their hands dirty, literally, and understand the whole process of where their food comes from.  And I wanted them to see just how challenging and rewarding it is to grow your own food, so that they would better understand what our farmers are doing every single day across this country and have an appreciation for that work, that tradition -- that American tradition of growing our own food and feeding ourselves.
 
And the garden helped spark a conversation in this country about healthy eating that led us to create Let’s Move.  As you know, it's a nationwide initiative to end childhood obesity in this country in a generation, so that all of our kids can grow up healthy.  And all of you all at USDA, let me just tell you, have been such a critical part of this effort right from the very start.  This would not happen -- all the conversation, all the movement around health, that's all because of so many of you right here in this room and throughout this building, and in agencies and facilities all over this country.  You helped to launch our new MyPlate icon, which is changing the way families serve their meals and gives them a really easy way to understand what a healthy plate looks like. 
 
You worked, as Tom said, to help pass historic childhood nutrition legislation and so much more.  But that legislation that Tom mentioned that you all worked so hard on, The Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act, I believe that that legislation is truly one of the greatest legacies that we can leave our children.  Because of this Act, as Tom mentioned, 32 million American children are getting more of the nutrition they need to learn and grow and be successful.  And I do hope that it's delicious.  We're working on that, yes indeed.  (Laughter.)  And you all are playing a big role in that.  And, more importantly, kids are playing a big role in making sure that their food is nutritious.  And I think that's part of the chain of progress -- they grow the food, they're involved in preparation, they're involved in how it tastes.  That means they're going to eat it. 

And none of this would have been possible without you all here at the USDA who worked tirelessly to pass this legislation and are working tirelessly to implement it all across the country.  So the bottom line is that with the work that you do at USDA -- work that affects the vitality of our communities, the food we feed our children, the air, the land, the water we’re passing on to our children -- you all touch just about every single American in this country with the work that you do. 

So what you all do here couldn't be more important.  But I do know, and another one of the reasons why I'm coming around not just to say thank you, but to just let you know that we know that the work you do isn't easy.  Most Americans don't understand what federal workers do and just how much they sacrifice and how much we depend upon the work that you do, how much we rely on you in so many ways -- both seen and unseen.  I know that the budgets are tight.  And that mean that you all are handling more responsibilities with even fewer resources than before. 
 
And I know that Mother Nature hasn’t exactly made matters easy in this country.  In 2011, you all had to contend with severe flooding all throughout the many regions.  In 2012, you dealt with the worst drought in half a century.  And this year, we’re facing both drought and flooding at the same time.
So I know that all of you have had a lot on your plates these past few years.  But let me just say time and again, you all have risen to the challenge.  You have risen to face whatever it is you've been asked to face.  And I’m here today because I want to tell you how much Barack and I really, truly appreciate what you do.  We know that you are sacrificing as much as us.  And oftentimes, we get the attention.  We get the limelight.  But the truth is we couldn’t do what we do without you sacrificing, you and your families.

So I want to say a big thank you to them -- all the kids whose plays have been missed, the birthdays that have been sacrificed, the spouses/partners that are upset.  You tell them thank you from the First Lady.  (Laughter and applause.)  Please, tell them thank you.  But I also want to encourage you, because you all are lifetime employees, so many of you, just to retain that passion.  Retain that passion and that energy and that vigor for what you do.  It absolutely matters to so many people.  So don't get tired.  Stay engaged.  Stay blessed.  And just know that you have a President and First Lady who truly values every single thing you do every day.

So thank you.  And I'm going to come down and shake a few hands.  (Applause.)

END
11:58 A.M. EDT

White House Shareables