Last February, U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack converted a parking lot in front of the USDA’s Washington, D.C., headquarters into a garden. The project, called the People’s Garden, eliminated 1,250 square feet of pavement, which will help protect the local watershed, and showcases sustainable landscaping techniques that all Americans can follow.
At an Earth Day celebration a few months later, Vilsack expanded the People’s Garden project to include organic, food-producing gardens. During the celebration, volunteers planted vegetables including corn, beans and squash, plus flowers and herbs. Over the next three years, the USDA plans to earn organic certification and add raised organic vegetable beds, urban container gardens, rain gardens, a bat house and a beehive. As the volunteers garden, they’re replacing invasive species with native trees and grasses and have explored organic pest-control techniques such as companion plantings.
Vilsack challenged other USDA offices around the world to plant their own People’s Gardens. More than 250 facilities—including the U.S. Embassy in Seoul, South Korea—took up the challenge and planted their own gardens.
All food grown in People’s Gardens around the country is donated to soup kitchens— almost 30,000 pounds last year. Every Friday during the growing season, the USDA sponsors public workshops teaching gardening and sustainability skills.