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USDA and Memphis Community Working Together in the Cotton Patch

Harvest day at the Cotton Patch, a People’s Garden in Memphis, Tenn.  The cumbers, okra, radishes and squash harvested by USDA employees and community members are all donated to the Mid-South Food Bank.  Photo courtesy Jeff Carnahan, Agricultural Marketing Service

Harvest day at the Cotton Patch, a People’s Garden in Memphis, Tenn. The cucumbers, okra, radishes and squash harvested by USDA employees and community members are all donated to the Mid-South Food Bank. Photo courtesy Jeff Carnahan, Agricultural Marketing Service

This summer, the Cotton Division of USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) established a People’s Garden in Memphis, Tenn. The garden, suitably named “the Cotton Patch,” is a collaborative project developed and maintained by USDA employees and residents in the surrounding community.  The exotic garden features raised vegetable beds and a colorful Japanese maple tree, as well as flower and rose gardens.

People’s Gardens vary in size and type, but all are required to have three common traits. The Cotton Patch is a great example of how a garden is beneficial to area residents, is a collaborative effort between employees and the community, and uses sustainable practices to keep the garden productive.

All of the vegetables are distributed to the Mid-South Food Bank, with weekly deliveries of fresh produce planned throughout the summer and fall.  The flower gardens provide a beautiful backdrop for community gatherings, like the open house held recently.  Roses from the garden are used to create bouquets for elderly citizens within the community, sharing the garden’s beauty and warmth. Cotton seedlings have also been planted and will be used for ornamental and educational purposes.

The garden is maintained by a network of volunteers that includes USDA employees, local Boy Scout troops, faith-based organizations and other community partners.  They take great pride in the gardens and their first significant crop harvest of cucumbers, okra, radishes and squash.

As the weather gets cooler, volunteers will re-work and re-seed the beds with cool-weather vegetables.

In 2009, Agriculture Secretary Vilsack established the People’s Garden Initiative, challenging employees to uphold President Lincoln’s description of USDA as “The People’s Department.”   The initiative encourages employees to create gardens at USDA facilities and in surrounding communities.  It has since developed into a partnership where more than 700 local and national organizations work together to establish community and school gardens across the country.

If you are ever in Memphis, the Cotton Patch team hopes you’ll stop by and see our garden. It is a great example of the beauty and the bounty that can be created by working together.

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