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Getting ready for another Healthy Garden Workshop!

It’s an absolutely beautiful day here in Washington, D.C., and we’re setting up to put on the third week of Healthy Garden Workshops. If you’re not in town, you can still follow the Peoples’ Garden on Twitter, or check back later for a full report on the afternoon fun!

Walking through the Peoples’ Garden

The weather is holding through this afternoon, and the lunchtime crowd in the Peoples’ Garden is excited and really interested to see what’s happening.

Early in the afternoon, the DC Central Kitchen, a student-operated non-profit in the District of Columbia which works to develop and serve organic, nutritious food to people in need, demonstrated the making of their bruschetta — and they’re still serving it outside to great reviews!

Meanwhile, staff from the National Arboretum joined a group of curious folks to teach gardening in containers and pots — a perfect concept for Americans living in urban apartments or other places lacking green space to garden. Practical tips abounded — for example, terra cotta pots are great, but not if you need to move your garden around often (they’ll break). Instead, the staff outlined the benefits of new gardening pots that are more weather-and-damage resistant.

It’s always a lot of fun to walk in the garden on an afternoon like this one, and to see how many Americans are excited at the possibility of getting a garden of their own going. The workshops continue throughout the summer, and you can always learn more at the Peoples’ Garden page.

Vilsack honors USDA agricullture advisors home from Iraq, Afghanistan

This afternoon in Washington, Secretary Vilsack hosted a great reception and ceremony for USDA employees returning from year-long tours of duty on Provincial Reconstruction Teams (PRT’s) in Iraq and Afghanistan.

“It is an honor for me to recognize these brave and devoted employees for their tremendous service to the people of Afghanistan and Iraq, and the important role they played in furthering political and social stability throughout the world by building a foundation on which the economies of these countries will prosper,” said Vilsack. “With President Obama’s new strategy in Afghanistan and Pakistan, USDA’s role in providing agricultural knowledge and expertise has become increasingly important. Whether in forestry, soil and water conservation, food safety, agricultural extension, or veterinary services, I hope the example provided by these brave men and women will inspire others to volunteer.” Secretary Vilsack thanks USDA agriculture advisors who served in Iraq and Afghanistan

Just before the ceremony, Bruce Dubee and Steve Berk, two advisors who were deployed in 2008 to Afghanistan shared some of their experience.

Dubee, a Natural Resources Conservation Service employee based in the Washington, D.C. headquarters office, was deployed as a soil specialist in Kunar province near the Pakistan-Afghanistan border.

“You have to figure [the work] out,” he said of his experience. (Both men were the first USDA staff working on their PRT, a group a civilian advisors escorted by U.S. and coalition military forces). “You look behind you, and there’s nobody, it’s you.”

Berk, a Farm Service Agency District Director in Florida before being deployed to Afghanistan’s Paktika province, worked largely in evaluation and project training — although both men agree their roles were very broad.

“We had to become politicians as well,” Berk said.

At times, both agreed the work could be “painfully slow,” and instability in the country could sometimes pose issues. “There’s nothing easy about working in Afghanistan,” said Dubee. Berk readily agreed.

But both noted the stark lack of development in the country, and how agricultural capacity building within Afghanistan will play a vital role in improving ordinary peoples’ quality of life.

“You come back and you really understand how good you have it,” Dubee said.

Both have considered returning to Afghanistan for second tours of duty, and USDA currently plans to increase the number of PRT advisors on the ground over the coming months.

Want to learn more? Along with the ceremony, USDA released a web site and video highlighting the efforts of advisors serving in Afghanistan.

Vilsack meets with Duncan, reads for students

This afternoon, Secretary Vilsack and Education Secretary Arne Duncan met with elementary school students from Arlington, Virginia visiting the Department of Education for the day. The students had the opportunity to learn about the Secretaries’ work, and Secretary Vilsack took some time to read “The Little Engine That Could” by Watty Piper for the kids
Vilsack reads 'The Little Engine That Could' for elementary school children alongside Education Secretary Duncan

Vilsack reads 'The Little Engine That Could' for elementary school children alongside Education Secretary Duncan