Puerto Rico’s First Lady is a big fan of the home garden, and actually, the garden at the governor’s mansion, called La Fortaleza, is part of USDA’s national garden movement.
First Lady Wilma Pastrana Jiménez’s garden was the first People’s Garden at a Puerto Rico state government facility and the third on the island.
The garden joins more than 2,000 across the nation as part of the People’s Garden Initiative, started in 2009 by Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack.
“Our experience planting fruits and vegetables in the garden at Palacio de Santa Catalina has been rewarding to us,” Jiménez said. “We are glad that this place has become an inspiration to others. Our team is instrumental in creating awareness on the importance of healthy eating habits in all our communities.”
People’s Gardens have expanded to all 50 states, three U.S. territories – including Puerto Rico – and eight foreign countries. They are located at faith-based centers, on federally leased or owned property, at schools and other places within the community.
“This is about a nation’s goal,” Jiménez said. “It is also the reason to spread the educational program ‘Siembra Vida,’ or ‘Planting Life,’ in the schools throughout the island. We are confident that the seed we are planting today will grow for many years to come.”
The People’s Garden Initiative engages USDA agencies, including USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service, to help “sow” gardens across the county. Late last year, NRCS Caribbean Area Director Edwin Almodóvar honored Jiménez for her efforts, which are important in a place like Puerto Rico.
“We import over 80 percent of what we consume on the island,” Almodóvar said. “We have had food security issues in the Caribbean for a long time. We are vulnerable to storms, markets and to many other things that happen globally.”
But the island’s good weather and fertile soil make it perfect for growing food, whether it’s in acres, feet or pots. He said he is glad the First Lady is working to promote home gardening.
“For the first time, the Governor’s Mansion in Puerto Rico has a vegetable garden in the backyard,” he said. “Many students and visitors tour the vegetable garden, and it is a great educational component that not just exposes them to the work of USDA, but shows how with minimal space you can save money and enjoy while learning and eating healthy.”
Puerto Rico’s other two People’s Gardens are located at the Mayagüez Field Office on the USDA Tropical Agriculture Research Station grounds and at the Luis Muñoz Marin International Airport in San Juan.