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USDA and DSU Deliver More than Healthy Food to Those in Need

People’s Garden committee member Rhonda Tyndall (left) shows DSU nutritionists Donna Brown and Carol Giesecke exactly which veggies and herbs will be ready for use in their upcoming cooking demonstration.

People’s Garden committee member Rhonda Tyndall (left) shows DSU nutritionists Donna Brown and Carol Giesecke exactly which veggies and herbs will be ready for use in their upcoming cooking demonstration.

Providing healthy produce to needy families is one of many goals of USDA’s People’s Garden Initiative. But ensuring that those who receive the food know delicious ways to enjoy it is also important.

In 2009, employees of USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) in Delaware transformed 1,000 square feet of barren land into a dynamic People’s Garden.  Since then, the garden has produced 1,100 pounds of fresh fruit, vegetables and herbs, all donated to two local shelters.

Over time, NRCS employees noticed that they would often hear positive feedback on the popular vegetables like cherry tomatoes, onions and corn, but receive questions about the preparation of other items such as squash, okra, Swiss chard and herbs.

The NRCS People’s Garden Committee, composed of nine NRCS Delaware employees who maintain the garden, decided that it would be helpful to provide the recipients of the donated produce with ideas of how to prepare it. So they reached out to Audrey Scott-Hynson, Program Manager of the Food Business Incubation Center with Delaware State University (DSU).

Hynson had worked with the Expanded Food and Nutrition Program of the university’s Cooperative Extension Service, and was able to offer the assistance of two Cooperative Extension nutritionists, Donna Brown and Carol Giesecke. 

“It just seemed like a perfect match-up. NRCS would provide all the food while we teach about the nutritious value and easy ways to prepare it—a win-win for all,” says Brown. 

In Aug. 2011, DSU and NRCS employees met at The Shepherd Place, a local homeless shelter in Dover, to provide a healthy cooking demonstration using various vegetables contributed from the Delaware People’s Garden.

Shelter residents received a cooking lesson from Brown and Giesecke, including the nutritional value of various vegetables and simple healthy recipes. Afterwards, residents and partners sampled the dishes, and all commented on how easy they were to prepare and how tasty they were. 

“[E]veryone agreed that it’s not expensive or hard to eat healthy—it’s a choice,” says Saydonyia Campbell, Shelter Manager with The Shepherd Place.

NRCS and DSU have plans to expand their People’s Garden cooking demonstration to include other shelters in the community. Cooking demonstrations this fall and winter will focus on lettuce and spinach, which Delaware NRCS employees will grow in a high tunnel to extend the growing season.

Find out more about the People’s Garden Initiative.

Check out more conservation stories on the USDA blog.

Follow NRCS on Twitter.

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