After a morning visit to the White House Kitchen garden, 27 students from Ecole Du Breuil, the leading school of Horticulture and Landscaping Techniques of the City of Paris, France, spent the afternoon visiting the USDA People’s Garden. All of these students are interested in landscape design and are receiving special training so they can pursue this important work as a career. These young people, like many others from around the world, are taking an interest in agriculture after being involved in a People’s Garden project in their community.
Sitting on tree stumps in the garden’s outdoor classroom, I welcomed the students to the first People’s Garden at USDA Headquarters, which Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack broke ground on in 2009. The visit gave USDA employees – Robert Snieckus (NRCS), Annie Ceccarini (People’s Garden) and myself – with backgrounds in landscape architecture, landscape design, plant science and government a chance to share sustainable landscape design practices and food production methods, as well as discuss career possibilities in American agriculture. I shared that agriculture is a fascinating occupation and offers unlimited opportunities to anyone who wants to make a career out of farming or gardening. Students then went on to enjoy an energetic tour of the vegetable garden and green roof at the Jamie L. Whitten Building.
The class was lead by Professor Hervé Dardillat, Landscape Architect, and Professor Claude Bilgoraj, English Instructor. The students are on a two-week U.S. tour, which includes many gardens and parks in Washington, Philadelphia, and New York City. They also will stay with host families and work on community gardens in New York.
When U.S. Ambassador to France Charles H. Rivkin arrived in Paris in 2009, he proposed creating an organic vegetable and fruit garden at his official residence, a historical building that is also known as Hotel de Pontalba. USDA’s Foreign Agricultural Service Paris-based office partnered with the Ecole Du Breuil, thus making it a school project. Several of the students visiting have been involved in the design, build and maintenance of this People’s Garden since 2011. They designed the garden to match the architectural background of the historic building, grew the plants in the school’s greenhouses, and then planted them at the residence. The students were challenged to design a garden that was both ornamental and useful.
The U.S. Embassy/Paris People’s Garden is now in its third year, having evolved each year with improved designs and new plants and trees. While in Paris for the G20 Agricultural Ministerial, Secretary Vilsack visited the garden and inaugurated it as a USDA People’s Garden.
The garden includes salads, herbs, squash, pumpkins, strawberries, hardy kiwi fruit, passion fruit, tomatoes, borage and many other crops from both Europe and the Western Hemisphere. Apple trees and vines were recently added. Since 2011, corn and sunflowers give the garden some Midwest U.S. flavor. In the fall, students will plant a winter garden with crops such as leek, beets and cabbages that can tolerate low temperatures and snow.
The U.S. Embassy/Paris People’s Garden supports the embassy’s nutrition outreach efforts and promotes healthy eating initiatives in the United States, such as MyPlate. To raise the profile of U.S. food products in France, the garden also serves as a backdrop for events organized by FAS to promote U.S. food products. Events included a California wine tasting and a gourmet gathering where renowned French chefs interpreted traditional U.S. recipes using vegetables and herbs from the garden along with U.S. products such as seafood. Recently, after touring the Embassy garden and meeting with Ecole Du Breuil staff, the new French Minister of Agriculture has decided to create a similar vegetable garden on the grounds of the Ministry’s headquarters.