Breaking Ground on the National Mall

As part of an Earth Day celebration, the U.S. Department of Agriculture have begun creation of a “People’s Garden” on the National Mall. A 6-acre area of grass, trees and flowers has been converted into an organic garden to promote sustainability, conservation and growing techniques. Its name was inspired by Abraham Lincoln who founded the Department of Agriculture in 1862 and called it the “People’s Department”.

The People’s Garden includes a 1,300 square foot vegetable plot, pollinator gardens, mini-wetlands, green roofs and various workshops for educational purposes. The wetlands area will demonstrate how to handle surface run off and prevent pollution.

Different gardening techniques will be employed such as the traditional native American “Three Sisters” garden. This method combines the planting of corn, pole beans and squash in such away that each sustains the other. Planted in small hills, the corn stalks support the pole beans, and the large trailing squash vines provide shade and their prickly leaves deter garden pests.

The organic garden will include the spring crops such as field peas, lettuce, spinach and kale. Next summer or late season crops will be planted and will include tomatoes, peppers, squash and herbs. Nearby demonstration tents will display the meaning and principles of organic gardening and the public will be able to view an actual working concept.

The vegetables will be grown in the ground, in raised beds and in containers to display the different ways of planting a garden and demonstrate that you don’t need a large plot of land to have a successful garden.

Local food banks will receive the harvest from the People’s Garden, but the main goal is education on sustainability and organic gardening. They are aiming to have the garden certified organic within three years. Workers from Melwood, a nonprofit organization that employs developmentally disabled adults, will take on the task of working the garden. However, employees from the USDA are encouraged to help.

Inspired during one of his daily runs on the grounds, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack noticed the tourists taking interest in the various trees and dedication plaques; what better venue than a working garden to drive home the message of sustainability and the importance of growing fresh fruits and vegetables in your own home.

As most great plans, the People’s Garden began as a much smaller venture, but as word spread and positive feedback began pouring in, the garden grew larger. Now with national goals, Vilsack plans to work with organizations across the country to spread the message to schools and communities on how they too can start gardens. In fact he has already met with over 47 such groups including the Rodale Institute, Seed Savers and the American Gardeners Association to brainstorm how to best promote the gardens. The response was overwhelmingly positive and encouraging for many smaller groups who were now part of a larger, unified effort.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said, “The garden will help explain to the public how small things they can do at home, at their business or on their farm or ranch, can promote sustainability, conserve the nation’s natural resources, and make America a leader in combating climate change.”

“I don’t care what anybody says: Nothing is better than a tomato you grow,” he said. “There’s something about it that’s different than a tomato you can buy. It’s a great thing.”

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