A budding new crop of People’s Garden volunteers recently blossomed. Nearly 60 USDA employees received certificates at a ceremony, marking their completion of the department’s 2011 Executive Master Gardener (EMG) training program. Class of 2011 graduates were welcomed as “new-bees” during a sweet serenade sung by EMG alumni at the beginning of the certificate ceremony.
Those receiving certificates completed a minimum of 40 hours of training and community service. This often meant coming to work a few hours early, giving up lunch, staying late, or volunteering on Saturdays. Throughout the year, those enrolled in the program immersed themselves in all things gardening.
Program members received training on a wide variety of topics like plant health and pest management. They got their hands dirty by planting and maintaining the People’s Garden here at USDA headquarters. They successfully grew thousands of plants for the landscape as well as DC Central Kitchen’s Truck Farm. Hundreds of hours were spent forming partnerships within the District. Program members worked together on different community projects such as, building a garden at Powell Elementary School with the Washington Capitals, sorting seeds for Operation Green Plant with America the Beautiful Fund and planting natives on Kingman Island for National Get Outdoors Day. Each Friday during the USDA farmer’s market season, the volunteers interacted with millions of visitors from all over the world, sharing their information on and inspiration for gardening.
Sporting a People’s Garden shirt and soil stained pants, employees enrolled in the program are easily spotted in the halls of USDA Headquarters. And if asked to explain their attire or why they joined the program it’s just amazing to hear their stories! Sandra Page, a recent EMG graduate and an employee for the Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS), shared that her involvement in the garden brought her a profound realization: “no work, no food.” This season, more than 700 pounds of produce was grown in the People’s Garden and donated to DC Central Kitchen thanks to our volunteers.
The program started in 2009 when Secretary Vilsack established the first Department wide volunteer program for the People’s Garden Initiative. As the Secretary encouraged people to start their own community gardens, he knew it was important for USDA employees to lead the educational outreach efforts. So, a volunteer program for employees at Headquarters was created as an abbreviated version of your local Extension Master Gardener program. In both 2010 and 2011 online registration for the program filled in a matter of minutes and many were left in waiting list limbo.
Now that they have graduated from the USDA program, many of the graduates will continue on to become extension master gardeners in their own communities. Our vision is that the USDA executive master gardeners will become People’s Garden ambassadors in their own communities, educating others about the importance of growing healthy food and cultivating community and school gardens through partnership.
Volunteerism within USDA reaches far beyond Headquarters. USDA employees working all over the country and overseas are similarly excited to connect with like minded people and garden for a cause. There is no denying that participants are enthusiastic, knowledgeable and dedicated to the mission of the People’s Garden. We are thankful for everyone’s involvement.
Here at USDA, we have a passion for gardening that comes straight from our roots. Our People’s Garden volunteers nurture and grow great things from these roots. We hope that you’ll join us and bring a passion for gardening to your community.