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USDA launches interactive database of People’s Gardens

March 15, 2011 Areawide No Comments

Volunteers from the neighborhood and Eastern Connecticut State University helping to build raised beds at the Taylor Court Community Garden in Willimantic, CT. Photo copyright 2009 by Brenda Sullivan

The grow-your-own movement has been gaining momentum for the last several years both as a means of cutting the grocery bill and feeling more in control of what’s on one’s plate.

Gardens also have been sprouting up at schools, senior centers, prisons and other locations as a means of fostering a sense of community, cooperation, satisfaction with seeing the results of one’s hard work – particularly for children – and other positive goals.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture is recognizing this phenomenon and announced this week that it has created an interactive database that will allow people to locate community gardens, or People’s Gardens, and other resources to help them either join with others or start their own project.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack is urging people across the country to start People’s Gardens in their communities and to register their gardens in the new People’s Garden database.

In fact, the USDA is getting into the spirit. This past year, thousands of USDA employees and partners volunteered their time to participate in the department-wide People’s Garden initiative.

“Real and effective change starts small and it starts in our own communities, and through the People’s Garden initiative, people can be engaged in their own towns and neighborhoods to promote access to fresh, healthy food, as well as sustainable practices,” Vilsack said.

On the People’s Gardens database you will be able to describe your garden, identify who is involved, where it is located and add contact information and attach photos of the garden.

Those beginning a People’s Garden can also request a sign.

To view the interactive People’s Garden map and access the database, go to www.pubinfo.usda.gov/garden

The People’s Gardens initiative is now entering its second year. It was launched by Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack on Feb. 12, 2009 and it now is being promoted in partnership with Keep America Beautiful.

The People’s Garden at USDA Headquarters is now one of 1,241 such gardens that have expanded to all 50 states and two U.S. territories.

If you would like to be a part of this initiative, your People’s Garden can vary in size and type, but must include these three components:

  • Benefit the Community: For example, gardens can create public spaces for leisure or recreation, they can supply fresh produce for a local food bank, they can create a wildlife-friendly landscape, or they can be a rain garden to absorb storm water run-off and protect the soil from erosion.
  • Be Collaborative: The garden must be created and maintained by a partnership of local individuals, groups or organizations.
  • Incorporate Sustainable Practices: The garden must include gardening practices that nurture, maintain and protect the environment such as capturing rainwater in rain barrels, composting and mulching, planting native species, encouraging beneficial insects that feed on destructive pests or using other alternatives to pesticides.

For more information about The People’s Garden initiative visit the Web site at www.usda.gov/peoplesgarden

You also can get real-time updates on Twitter @peoplesgarden

Information also is available on the USDA Facebook page at www.facebook.com/USDA and photos are available at www.flickr.com/photos/usdagov

Also, blogs from the gardeners involved in People’s Gardens are featured at www.usda.gov/blog/usda

Posted March 15, 2011

Editor’s note: The photo accompanying this story is of a community garden I created in 2008 – in a highly visible empty lot that was previously full of garbage and weeds – with the help of a large number of volunteers including Habitat for Humanity, ECSU students, Windham town staff, the Master Gardener program, and many adults and children in the neighborhood. The bulk of our funding, mainly for lumber for raised beds, a trellis and our sign, came from the Windham-area Neighborhood Revitalization Zone (NRZ) Committee. We also have received donated seeds and plants from the Master Gardener program and the horticulture program at the prison in Brooklyn. The fence was donated by a member of Freecycle.org. Shortly after we built the garden, neighboring rental property owners began repairing, painting and landscaping their properties. We also got a sidewalk on our street – previously kids walking to the school on the corner walked in the street. And the trucking company next door, which had been at odds with neighbors for years, developed a much more cooperative attitude, i.e. no more idling trucks. It’s been a wonderful experience to be involved in this project, as someone who has spent her life writing about what other people are doing with their lives, and we expect to involve even more children this year, which is especially exciting to me. – Brenda Sullivan

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