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New People’s Garden Marks Upcoming 150th Anniversary of USDA

Children planting at the Peoples GardenBy Justin Fritscher, NRCS Mississippi

Many children believe their food comes from the grocery store. But a class of 23 Mississippi second-graders knows better than that – the delicious food they love starts with a seed.

Students from Madison Avenue Elementary visited a new People’s Garden at an office of USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) and planted seeds of squash, watermelon, pumpkin, cucumber and, of course, the “Abraham Lincoln” tomato.

Earth Team volunteers joined employees from NRCS’ Science and Technology Center to teach the youngsters about growing fruits and vegetables and the history of USDA. They learned of USDA’s upcoming 150th anniversary and its origins with President Lincoln.

The People’s Garden effort started three years ago, and this central Mississippi garden is one of more than 1,500 People’s Gardens across the nation. The garden’s star plant is the “Abraham Lincoln” tomato, an heirloom variety first introduced in 1923 by the W.H. Buckbee seed company.

Not only did they have a chance to get their hands dirty, but they had a party and sang “Happy Birthday” to USDA while enjoying a pumpkin cupcake.

It would not be a party without conservation mascot Sammy Soil, who made a special appearance. Students also enjoyed meeting the garden’s guard – a scarecrow made from farmers’ clothes and recycled grocery bags.

Nancy Magee, an NRCS program expert, organized the event and sees the plantings as a great way to connect students to the origin of food and explain the role farmers play in their lives.

The garden is nearby Strawberry Park, a city green space with a busy walking trail. Magee said the garden’s location informs passersby about USDA and the People’s Garden. Plus, it is a beautiful asset to the office, she said.

As children were boarding the school bus, after their visit to the new garden, she heard one student tell another, “I’m going to come back in a week and see how they’re growing.” That is exactly what Magee wanted to hear.