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Victory at the USDA: Three Reasons Why the People’s Garden Matters to Us All

America received an Earth Day gift today wrapped in national significance and organic pea tendrils. Secretary of Agriculture, Tom Vilsack, declared the entire six-acres grounds of the Whitten Building, the mammoth marble USDA headquarters on the Mall in Washington D.C., as “The People’s Garden.” Goodbye grass, hello edible greens.

Today’s act builds on initial plans unveiled back on February 12, when Vilsack announced the People’s Garden concept on Abraham Lincoln’s birthday. “Abraham Lincoln founded the Department of Agriculture in 1862, referring it to the ‘People’s Department,’” explains Rose Hayden-Smith, a garden historian and Kellogg Food and Society Policy Fellow. “The name of this new garden reflects the inspiring significant shift on the federal level in championing homegrown produce, rekindling the Victory Garden era for modern times.”

The new People’s Garden will be 1,300 square feet (slightly larger than the White House Garden, for those counting) and will include a rotation of crops, beginning with spring plantings such as peas, lettuce and kale.

This garden represents more than trendy edible landscaping. Here are three reasons why these plantings cultivate inspiration and meaning for us all:

1. Organic Goes Mainstream
The official press release from the USDA on the People’s Garden uses the word “organic” multiple times, like this sentence: “Eventually, the garden will include organic raised vegetable beds, organic transition plots, an organic urban container garden, an organic kitchen pollinator garden, rain gardens and a bat house.”

Such support of organic gardening and sustainable agriculture by the USDA champions a new course for the department, one that looks at our food system with the Seventh Generation in mind.

2. D.C. Mall Location a Message to the World
With the millions of tourists flocking to Washington D.C. annually, both Americans and travelers from abroad, a garden on the Mall makes a significant statement about the Administration’s gardening priority. Vilsack is said to have come up with idea during one of his regular jogs through the Capitol for exercise. After observing lots of tourists regularly reading the plaques and information placed by regular plantings, he saw opportunity to community a broader message about the importance of healthy, fresh fruits and vegetables to the public.

3. Motivation
If the USDA can pull off a garden in the heart of DC, turning grass surrounded by concrete jungle into productive gardens, surely we can at home. If this garden can survive thousands of busloads filled with hands of middle school students, surely we can manage at home.

“I personally am very encouraged that the Secretary of Agriculture is so committed to education and encourage people in America to garden,” adds Hayden-Smith. “The People’s Garden belongs to and provides inspiration for us all.”

7 comments
  1. Jessica

    I absolutely love the idea of a community garden, and what an amazing step it is to see such a large scale community garden take off. Hopefully this will inspire more small scale community gardens to form across the country.

  2. Jerry Cunningham

    I applaud Mr. Vilsak for creating an Organic garden, not just a garden, but an Organic one.

    I am 72 years old, over the past 50 years I have watched and participated as the chemicals that industrial Big-Ag has put into our soil and into our foods has made cancer rates soar, among a myriad of other ailments.

    I created a 90 acre organic farm 10 years ago to feed my family healthy food.

    Organic is the new way, and “Conventional” farming, as described by the purveyors of petroleum based chemicals industry is on the way out.

    These big Ag giants will not go away without a fight, they have their shills embedded deeply within the USDA, so please stay vigilant and watch for their underhanded tricks.

    Kudos, USDA, and Secretary Vilsak!

  3. Colette Burke

    Hi Lisa,
    I found your site through your excellent advice on getting hobby farmers going in the blogosphere (“Five Tips”).
    As to this post, the idea of The Peoples’Garden is terrific. But organic food cannot be for everybody, not least because of the expense. It would be good to encourage broader thinking,recognise the needs of most people, and focus on sustainable, local food, not just organics.

  4. Gina

    I love that the government is embracing home gardens and organic ways of doing so. It sends a huge message that Americans do not want toxin chemicals and pesticides in the food we eat. We raise organic vegetables in our garden and it’s no more expensive than using other methods – maybe a little more work but we enjoy nurturing our vegetables just as we would chickens or goats if we had them (and I’m working on chickens!). This is such a wonderful shift!

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