USDA “People’s Garden”

digTom Vilsack “broke pavement” today to turn some paved areas around the USDA offices into the first “People’s Garden” for the department Lincoln called the “People’s Department.” Read the full article, then tell me…

Did I miss something, or is there no mention of food gardening anywhere in here? Is this really going to work like a community garden, where you get your plot and grow your veggies? Or is it more about green landscaping than growing food? I’m all for green landscaping and reducing concrete, but it seems a bit odd to me that the USDA wouldn’t have something more … agricultural … in their garden(s).

Oh. Wait. This is the USDA. They don’t want any competition for those 10,000 acre monoculturists who are teetering on the edge of solvency…



  1. linda said,

    February 13, 2009 at 2:00 pm

    That is just so frustrating! If you missed something, then so did I. I am beginning to wonder if this isn’t about a culture of denial? Americans should be growing food in all vacant lots as they did in Cuba.

  2. TeacherPatti said,

    February 13, 2009 at 2:09 pm

    I counted about five vacant lots in the neighborhood surrounding the school where I teach (in NW Detroit, about 30 miles due east of A2). I wish like anything that these could be turned into gardens, especially given the poverty rate in the D….

  3. Suzie said,

    February 13, 2009 at 3:39 pm

    Well, to be fair, USDA *is* the federal agency in charge of natural area stewardship/conservation/restoration type activities, forest service, etc. I’m not sure that the article implies that there *would* be food crops. It sounds like it will be native plant gardens.

  4. Emily said,

    February 13, 2009 at 3:59 pm

    Whoa – Suzie, I think I missed that whole aspect of the USDA. Isn’t that Dept. of Interior? Or is one part of the other? That makes a little more sense…and like I said, their goals are definitely worthy just…missing a pretty crucial piece, IMO.

  5. Suzie said,

    February 13, 2009 at 6:48 pm

    It is definitely not the dept of the interior.

  6. Leasmom said,

    February 13, 2009 at 7:24 pm

    TeacherPatti, I live not far from Detroit in Livonia and I wish they would do that too. I see they’re are some community gardens popping up. There were two when I visited my friend near downtown Detroit but boy is the rest of Detroit horrifying. My mother still shops for groceries in Detroit-(why when most of the stores are overpriced with rottening meat and produce, really)-but she’s used to Detroit vs. the suburbs where she now lives and most people in Detroit have very limited access to fresh veggies. Most have corner liquor stores vs. grocery stores and if they do have some they are over-priced and limited as far as variety. So that would help a great deal if they would knock down the millions of burnt down and abandoned buildings in Detroit and create community gardens.

  7. Suzie said,

    February 13, 2009 at 7:44 pm

    Oh, sorry, USFWS is part of dept of interior. But NRCS & Forest Service are USDA.

  8. Suzie said,

    February 13, 2009 at 7:45 pm

    US Fish & Wildlife Svc
    National Resources Conservation Service

  9. February 16, 2009 at 7:06 am

    There’s a lot of seeming and actual overlap between executive departments. Agriculture and Interior both have to do with lands (and, the cynic in me might add, the exploiting of such) but Ag deals more with soils, forests, farm crops and animals, food and nutrition while Interior handles fish and wildlife, geology, minerals, “Indians” (yes, it’s still the Indian Affairs Bureau), and national parks.

    I think the distinction the government has made over centuries of its infinitely fuzzy wisdom is “domestic” nature vs. “wild” nature. The federal government is full of such bizarre dichotomies.

    Which makes your point, Emily, thoroughly valid. If the USDA is digging and planting a garden in DC, while landscaping plants that prevent erosion and water run-off are good, there are ways to combine those with food plants (at least perennial herbs and berry bushes and fruit and nut trees).

  10. Joe said,

    February 19, 2009 at 1:16 pm

    As far as the US Government is concerned forests are harvestable crops, which is why the US Forest Service is under the Department of Agriculture. National Forests under the USFS are ‘multi-use’ meaning not just for public enjoyment and conservation but also for managing and selling land for clear-cutting.

    I agree with Suzie in that a green space not dedicated to growing edibles is still within the bounds of USDA sphere of responsibility and thus the people’s project does not need to be a ‘community’ food garden. On top of that the USDA headquarters office building takes up over 2 square city blocks, so allotting garden plots to only a few of the tens of thousands of employees within would be a difficult task to say the least.

    In my mind though it remains a publicity stunt, no matter how useful, and the new USDA administration isn’t off the hook yet for what I think they should be doing; that is publicly encouraging sustainable polyculture and/or small scale food production with at least as much vigor as they put into backing large scale farming.

  11. Regina said,

    February 20, 2009 at 9:17 am

    According to a NYT blog, there will be an edible section of this “People’s Garden” at USDA HQ.

    “Last week, the Agriculture Department started its own garden, one that will include fruits and vegetables to be donated to the city’s soup kitchens. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack jackhammered a spot in the black asphalt outside the Whitten building to prepare the ground. It is part of an effort by the Obama administration to get people to grow some of their own food.

    Mrs. Obama said she was particularly pleased that the department’s facilities all over the world would be planting gardens. “I’m a big believer in community gardens,” she said, “both because of their beauty and for providing access to fresh fruits and vegetables to so many communities across the nation and the world.””

    There’s also a video on YouTube from the “pavement-breaking”, that mentions the food garden section, though again, it’s not very much emphasized. (Vilsack doesn’t mention it, but after his speech a couple of guys describe the whole layout)

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