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.
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.”