By Katherine Belcher USDA Kentucky Public Information Coordinator
When the Agriculture Department issued a challenge for its employees to establish People’s Gardens at USDA facilities around the world, the staff of the Service Center in West Liberty, Ky., wasted no time in putting one together.
With the perfect location in mind, Barry Allen, County Executive Director for the Farm Service Agency office in West Liberty, asked a landowner who lives next door to the Service Center if USDA could establish a garden on his parcel. The owner had long used it to raise his own vegetables, but in recent years, due to health issues, he was no longer able to do so. After hearing the concept behind the People’s Garden, the neighbor gladly agreed to let USDA use the property, asking only favor – that he be allowed to enjoy a small portion of the produce.
The staff started with nothing, but little by little– they had enough to start the garden. Most raise gardens at their homes, and when asked to help, they didn’t hesitate to bring in extra seeds, plants and equipment to use at the office. They pooled their assets, money and resources – making it a true team effort.
Nearly every member of the staff has had a hand in the garden – literally and figuratively – from providing the materials, tilling the soil and planting the vegetables to keeping out the weeds, harvesting the produce and delivering it to people who needed it. The garden plot is slightly less than one-quarter of an acre but has produced a tremendous amount of produce, including green beans, okra, zucchini, banana peppers, tomatoes, corn, squash, sweet potatoes, broccoli, cabbage, cucumbers, radishes and green onions.
Each week, USDA staff from several agencies donates the fresh produce to local senior citizens. To date, donations have been made to senior citizen centers in Morgan, Wolfe, Magoffin, Floyd and Johnson counties. All five counties are persistent poverty counties and the seniors in those areas are incredibly thankful for the donations.
“We are providing good, healthy food to one of the most vulnerable parts of society – seniors. That’s the best part, giving (the produce) to the people who are so appreciative of it,” said Allen. “Many senior citizens have people watching over them, but some don’t. Many are on a fixed income and cannot afford to buy fresh produce. And those who can afford to buy it oftentimes cannot get to the store on their own – they need someone to take them.”
Kentucky Rural Development staff from the Service Center in Paintsville have donated their time and labor to work in the garden as well. Cheryl Wright recently donated several pounds of vegetables to the senior citizens center in Johnson County in June and July.
Tom Fern, State Director for Rural Development, said he is proud of the work being done in People’s Gardens across the state and commends all the USDA employees who are participating.
“This garden benefits the community, is collaborative and incorporates sustainable practices,” said Fern. “People with access to fresh produce are more likely to have a healthy and nutritious diet, and this garden is providing fresh vegetables to rural residents in need.”