It’s harvest time at the USDA’s People’s Garden

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All summer, visitors to the the Washington D.C. area have been seeing the awesome sights around our nation’s capitol and enjoying the creative culture of music and theater but many were somewhat astonished to also witness the colorful display that was showcased at USDA’s People’s Garden.

Where did these awesome shades of color originate most would ask and the answer lies in the fact that the USDA has an arsenal of employees that do double-time as garden volunteers.  They are the ones responsible for planting, maintaining and harvesting the garden.  They are also very adept at providing answers to the hundreds of question that sprout (pun intended) from the appreciative people who come by the garden.

Lee Cliburn, an employee of the USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service, the department responsible for managing the People’s Garden, is quick to point out that “People need to have a connection to their food, like I did when I was growing up.”  A USDA Master Gardener, Cliburn really enjoys harvesting the ripe vegetables which takes place on Tuesdays and Fridays.  Cliburn added, “My grandmother was a talented and skillful gardener, and I learned from her.”

The vegetable garden is completely organic and is located right at the intersection of 12th St. and Jefferson Dr. which is at the NE corner of the USDA Headquarters.  Many of the people who stop by are long-time gardeners who currently keep a vegetable garden at their home although there are also many others who have never felt the satisfaction and joy that a home vegetable garden can bring.

The kids that visit the garden bring their curiosity with them and as Cliburn says they “see the garden and the projects we’re working on, and ask questions. This is an important project because it reconnects USDA with the people it serves and gets them thinking about their food,”

USDA People's GardenAlthough the People’s Garden is an awesome tool for raising awareness it also serves a much more down to earth objective.  Every week during the harvest period they donate several hundred pounds of fresh, nutritious herbs and vegetables to the DC Central Kitchen, a community kitchen dedicated to providing wholesome food for folks who currently need a helping hand putting food in their bellies.

The DC Central Kitchen is “so appreciative” says Tanya Brown, an employee of the Farm Service Agency who is responsible for delivering the produce to them.  “They get green food, healthy food and herbs like basil and sage.  When I walk in they all say ‘Here comes the herb lady.’”

The kitchen is responsible for preparing and providing food to area non-profit organizations, transitional homes and homeless shelters in the DC area.  According to Brown the herbs and vegetables donated by the USDA People’s Garden are one of the mainstays in the preparation of many of the 5,000 meals provided by the kitchen.  Full credit is given to the garden when the DC Central Kitchen prepares it’s menu.

By providing a simple, local avenue for helping to eradicate hunger, the People’s Garden is quickly becoming a blessing to the less fortunate and a solid way for the many volunteers to give back to their community.

Effie Baldwin, and employee of the National Institute of Food and Agriculture, the source for many community food project grants, states “Having the benefit of fresh vegetables and the experience of gardening encourages me to promote this basic human right for everyone.”  and “Spending time in USDA’s People’s Garden not only provides a service but brings back memories of Midwestern summer days spent in my grandparent’s backyard garden.”  Many of the volunteer Master Gardeners agree that gardening is more than just food – it’s a labor of Love.

There are People’s Gardens registered in all 50 states as well as 12 foreign countries and 3 U.S. territories.  Currenlty more than 2,100.  If you are interested in getting involved you can find one close to you by referring to the USDA’s interactive map.

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