SECRETARY TOM VILSACK: Good afternoon, everyone. This is really a very, very special day for us at USDA as we have an opportunity to welcome our First Lady. When the First Lady comes on stage, she's obviously going to have an opportunity to see all of you and all of the folks behind me. Just so you have a sense of the folks behind me, these I understand are veteran USDA workers. I think the shortest term is 38 years of service.
[Applause and cheers]
But I want to take a minute of the First Lady's time, if she's listening off-stage, to introduce you to her, because I think it's important that she understand and appreciate who all is here today.
I suspect that there are people from the Farm Service Agency who helped to create a rural safety net to make sure that our farmers and ranchers prosper.
I suspect that there are folks here from the Foreign Ag Service who are over 70 countries, helping to export our goods and put a different face to America in foreign lands.
Folks from Rural Development may very well be here. These are people who work every day to strengthen and build strong rural communities, housing opportunities, and economic development.
There may be some Food and Nutrition folks, folks who are working every day to make sure that our children in this country have nutritious meals every day at school, and that those families who struggle during tough economic times have food assistance.
There are those I'm sure who are involved in Food Safety, making sure that every American can enjoy safe and secure food; those working with the natural resources and the Forest Service, working not just to maintain our forests but also to provide in the western part of our country water for over 60 million Americans.
There may be folks from the Regulatory and Marketing area. These folks work every single day to make sure there's a level playing field so that our farmers and ranchers can work in competitive markets.
And there may very well be those who work in the research area making sure that we're developing the newest biofuels, innovative ways to limit and to remove diseases and pests that sometimes cost a lot of heartache out in rural areas.
And so that's who the First Lady will be speaking to.
And for the benefit of all of you, it would be very difficult for me to introduce the First Lady in as many different ways as her life has represented. I could talk to you about her scholarship as a graduate of Princeton and Harvard Law School; the fact that she worked as a lawyer in a major law firm in Chicago, providing advice to major corporations; that she spent time herself in government service working for the city of Chicago in giving strategic advice in planning and development; that she worked and dedicated her life to community service, working with nonprofit entities of 'Public Allies,' an AmeriCorps project, to promote community service. She took that work into the academic area working on behalf of the University of Chicago in a number of different capacities.
And we all know that she is the mother of two of the best-looking, most poised youngsters I've ever seen.
But she's here today to thank all of you for your service, and I think I'd like to take this opportunity, in conclusion, to thank her. You see, she has probably the most difficult job of all. When you are the spouse of the President of the United States, you have a unique responsibility and job because, you see, the President, for us, has to stand tall every single day. But I suspect that there are times when things aren't going as well as he would like; there are times when there may be doubt. There may be times when there are criticisms. There may be times when things are unfairly said. And he has got to have someone he can lean on, someone he can rely on, someone who understands and cares about him and who loves him deeply.
And, you know, that is an important job, because it benefits all of us, because it allows him to do his job for all of us as well as he possibly can. It is very obvious in just the short period of time that Michelle Obama has been our First Lady that she is that kind of person to President Obama, and we need to thank her for that every single day.
Ladies and gentlemen of USDA, let me proudly welcome to the podium our First Lady, Michelle Obama.
[Applause and cheers]
FIRST LADY MICHELLE OBAMA: Thank you. Thank you so much. Thank you.
You all take a load off your feet.
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--
-- is probably one of the most valuable things that I think that I can do.
We are so lucky to have Secretary Vilsack. I got to know him on the campaign trail. I 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. 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, hard-working 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 on board. So let's give him a round of 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?
FIRST LADY MICHELLE OBAMA: It's a very good thing--and, kicking off this effort to build these gardens all over the world, in all 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've brought a little gift to get this garden going. It's right here in this pot.
It is a seedling. It will be beautiful one day.
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.
So as you've probably heard, I've been running around the District [of Columbia] visiting departments. And as I 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 in the back who gulp every time they hear that, because they are like 20.
So they can't imagine doing anything for longer than four years.
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 is 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.