Volunteers planted an heirloom variety of tomato called ‘Abraham Lincoln’ in People’s Garden throughout the world to celebrate USDA’s 150th Anniversary in 2012. More than 11,800 pounds of Lincoln Tomatoes were harvested and donated to food banks.

It was National Volunteer Week and an ideal time to share how USDA employees and partners are volunteering their time to green communities and provide fresh food to those in need.

It all started in 2009 when Agriculture Secretary Vilsack established a Department-wide volunteer program for the People’s Garden Initiative. He encouraged every USDA employee to get involved by volunteering time and expertise to create a People’s Garden – a challenge he then extended to all Americans.

So what is a People’s Garden? Each garden is different and site specific, but all People’s Gardens are collaborative efforts, benefit the community they’re in, and incorporate sustainable practices.

Thousands have answered Secretary Vilsack’s call to give back. Today there are more than 1,900 registered People’s Gardens across the United States and around the world. Some next to faith-based centers or schools, others in front of a USDA office. Volunteers – people just like you – have given 211,884 hours of their time in People’s Gardens. This time alone is worth an estimated $4.5 million dollars, which comes on top of the 3.1 million pounds of fresh produce volunteers have picked to donate to those in need.

How do we know time is well spent volunteering in the garden?

It’s inspiring stories. Like at this USDA Food and Nutrition Service People’s Garden, located in one of Chicago’s most economically and socially challenged neighborhoods, local organizations and volunteers from different federal agencies are teaching at-risk adults practical skills to prepare them for future green jobs.

This Forest Service People’s Garden at Wayne National Forest in southeastern Ohio helps educate park visitors about the importance of native plants and pollinators thanks to a partnership between USDA employee volunteers, a local nonprofit and college.

The People’s Garden School Pilot Project working in 54 low-income schools across the country enlists the help of volunteers to share their time and skills to teach students, parents and teachers how to sustain their school garden. Volunteer involvement lessens the likelihood that produce grown in school gardens during the summer months will go to waste. Instead it is used in summer meal programs or provided to families.

It’s these stories and countless others that demonstrate the extraordinary impact community gardens are making across America. But none of this would be possible without people, like you, taking time out of their busy lives to plant a seed, teach a child, or harvest vegetables to feed those in need.

So this National Volunteer Week, we want to thank all of the USDA employee volunteers and over 1,290 partnering organizations that together are helping solve problems and make their communities greener, healthier places to live and work.


Posted by Annie Ceccarini, Outreach and Education Specialist, The People’s Garden Initiative, on usda.gov website blog


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