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Community Grows in the People’s Garden

Written by:  John A. Goolsby, Ph.D., Research Entomologist, Biological Control of Pests and Weeds  United States Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service

The McAllen Community Garden was formed by a small group of USDA employees to bring community gardening to the people of McAllen, Texas. McAllen is located on the border with Mexico near the southern tip of Texas. This area along the Rio Grande is prime farmland. The year round frost free climate and deep sandy-loam soil makes it one of the best in the nation for gardening and commercial production of winter vegetables, citrus, avocadoes and other crops.

The water from the Rio Grande irrigates many acres of winter vegetables, citrus, sugarcane, sorghum and cotton. The McAllen Community Garden is a subtropical vegetable and fruit garden. 22 gardeners plant more than 54 types of winter vegetables here. We’re unique because it is flood irrigated like a commercial farm. This ample supply of irrigation from the river allows us to grow lots of vegetables.

We use organic methods including lots of manure and compost at the start of each season.  During the hot summer we don’t garden. We plant a cover crop of lab-lab, a tropical forage legume like a pea or bean. The lab-lab is shredded in September and disked into the soil as a green manure making it more fertile.  John Goolsby, the President and founder of the MCG saw this method during his USDA travels to southern India.

The City of McAllen, especially our City Commissioner, John Ingram is very supportive of the garden. Some of the gardeners work for USDA. John Goolsby, Alex Racelis and John Adamczyk work for ARS, the Agricultural Research Service.  ARS is the in-house research agency for USDA. Don Vacek, Vice President, works for USDA-APHIS, Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service.  APHIS is the regulatory branch of USDA .

Each garden has their own plot that they are responsible for planting, cultivating and harvesting.  We share the pecans, mangoes, avocadoes, olives, grapes, and passion fruit grown at the MCG.  This year more than 54 different kinds of vegetables were harvested. This bounty was shared with the community.

McAllen Community Garden

McAllen Community Garden

Dr. Alan Kirk (USDA-ARS) and a McAllen fireman admire a large turnip that was harvested from the garden.
Dr. Alan Kirk (USDA-ARS) and a McAllen fireman admire a large turnip that was harvested from the garden.

 

McAllen Community Gardeners. This photo shows some of the gardeners aged 8 to 80+. The gardeners have just finished spreading manure and compost on the garden. McAllen Community Gardeners. This photo shows some of the gardeners aged 8 to 80+. The gardeners have just finished spreading manure and compost on the garden.