It is amazing what successful partnerships we have developed through our USDA People’s Garden initiative in the Food & Nutrition Service’s Midwest Region. It’s been four years now since we began working with the Chicago Botanic Garden’s Windy City Harvest Program to create our garden. The garden is a symbol of USDA’s history in connecting our people to the land. Throughout the years, we have helped maintain raised garden beds in one of Chicago’s most economically and socially challenged neighborhoods. Now we have expanded those efforts to include our federal neighbors and partners at the Environmental Protection Agency.
The staff at EPA joined us in 2011 to help volunteer in the USDA People’s Garden. For the summer of 2012, five EPA staff members supported our effort. It was a great collaboration that makes good sense since both agencies encourage good stewardship of the land. It also doesn’t hurt to have them as neighbors just a few floors below in the same office building in the heart of Chicago’s downtown! EPA and USDA staff volunteered several weeks throughout the summer season to help maintain the garden. We learn so much about gardening from the Windy City Harvest staff. They teach us how to space our seeds when planting, show us what plants are weeds and what should stay in the ground, and help us identify and harvest ripe produce.
The Windy City Harvest program employs at-risk adults who learn practical skills in gardening that prepare them for future green jobs. We work together with them on all the aspects of tending a garden, including harvesting thousands of pounds of beautiful, fresh produce! The produce is then donated to local Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infant and Children (WIC) centers and a wellness center.
In 2012, the six Windy City Harvest garden sites together, including the Midwest People’s Garden, reaped almost 70,000 pounds in fresh fruits and vegetables. The produce has made a difference in the lives of many low income Chicagoans—and partnering with other federal agencies has helped make this a reality.
We are grateful to be able to provide our support – both through symbolic and volunteer efforts. We hope to continue our success on the People’s Garden initiative in 2013.