Promoting Healthy Eating, With 31 Other First Ladies

.... heads of state whose husbands were busy discussing world affairs at the United Nations visited the restaurant and organic farm because its mission since it opened in 2004 has been to connect people with the food they eat.

Representatives from places as far-flung as Cameroon, Estonia, Gabon, Norway, Panama and Sierra Leone mingled with children from Port Chester and Pocantico public schools on the 80-acre former cattle farm nestled within the Rockefeller family estate. Pocantico Hills has been home to the Rockefellers since the 1890s.

Present for the first lady’s visit was David Rockefeller, now 95, one of the creative forces behind the complex, who insisted that it include an up-market restaurant serving organic food. That restaurant, Blue Hill, has become a destination for people who want to eat three-star food made from local ingredients, prepared by Dan Barber, its chef.

The first lady’s foreign guests had been advised to wear “farm-appropriate clothing.” Mrs. Obama, wearing a floral and foliage-patterned Tracy Feith dress that she also had worn to her first public event after President Obama’s inauguration, had on silver ballet flats. But not everyone complied: not the women in their five-inch heels, nor the ones in their special-occasion native costumes with elaborate headdresses.

But they all gamely, if sometimes awkwardly, visited the herb and vegetable gardens and the egg-laying hens in a nearby field, where the schoolchildren — some of the 10,000 who visit Stone Barns each year — were collecting eggs for their lunch.

As Mrs. Obama and Elisabeth D. Préval, wife of the Haitian president, helped the children collect the eggs, one child on the other side of a movable chicken coop was squawking, not unlike a chicken. A bird had either pecked or scratched him, though later he was seen tentatively nestling a different chicken in his arms.

Mrs. Obama described the herb garden as “the best-smelling part of the whole farm.”

Earlier, when Mrs. Obama had dropped by the kitchen to see one of the children’s cooking classes, pesto and cavatelli were being prepared from scratch. But as the little sous-chefs were about to begin cutting the pastadough, the Secret Service arrived and told them they had to put away all the knives. The cavatelli preparation had to wait until Mrs. Obama left.

Mrs. Obama said it was important to teach children where the food they ate came from.

“The real beauty comes when you see the kids,” Mrs. Obama said in an interview. “They were focused on their tomato picking. And to see the kids in the chicken coops, picking the eggs, and they were excited, and they want to show you what they’ve done, and they have information and intelligence about the food that they’re eating, you see that excitement. That’s really what I think about when I’m here, and how they’re making that happen here at Stone Barns.

“Many of these kids have never been on a farm, and but for this opportunity they’d never see where a tomato would come from,” she said. “They don’t know how chickens lay eggs. But they do now, because of this experience.

“And it’s going to change the way they think about food and how they eat. I know that because I’ve seen it in my own kids,” she said, telling how her daughter Sasha had hated tomatoes until she took a school cooking class and made a sandwich of them with basil, pesto and mozzarella.

Mrs. Obama said Sasha told her, “Do you know those hair tomatoes?” referring to heirloom tomatoes. “Now those are good tomatoes!”