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From Sisters' Generosity Grows a Garden to Benefit Carthage, Texas Community

story by Beverly Moseley

Jane Ray was ironing clothes and watching the news when a story inspired her to action.

The news story showed First Lady Michelle Obama speaking to employees at the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) in Washington, D.C., telling them about the agency's People's Garden initiative.

With iron still in hand, Ray, who grew up in Carthage, Texas, realized she had just heard how she could honor her parents and benefit her hometown community.

From Ray's inspiring moment, has grown a People's Garden which will provide food to Carthage area families in need. The garden also will provide an area for the community to learn about gardening, water and soil quality, along with sustainable practices such as capturing rainwater.

The more than one acre garden is located at the Carthage USDA service center on land owned by Ray and her sister, Jill Burkindine, of Manhattan, Kansas.

"It was our answer. We were wondering how we could memorialize our parents. Mom is ill and in a care facility. Daddy died three years ago," Ray said. "This just seemed the perfect thing."

Burkindine shares Ray's passion and commitment to the garden and the Carthage community.

"When we first started I had envisioned a square plot with some beans. This has taken on a life of its own and it was meant to be," Burkindine said. "My sister was very excited. She felt like she had found a perfect vehicle for us to honor our parents. It's something our father would really love since he was a local grocer."

Fresh produce grown at the garden will benefit Mission Carthage, an organization that works to help families in need. Children are a large percentage of the people being fed by the mission.

"The produce given to Mission Carthage from the People's Garden will have far-reaching effects by helping meet the needs in our neighbor's lives," said Janet Shrewsbury, executive director of Mission Carthage.

The USDA began the People's Garden initiative last year in an effort to establish gardens at USDA facilities across the world. USDA employees were called on to help assist communities with creating their own gardens.

The first People's Garden was established on the grounds of the USDA headquarters in Washington. More than 124 gardens have sprung up across the U.S. since the initiative was announced.

Learning from the past

Ray and Burkindine learned at an early age the importance of giving back to the community from their parents, John and Allois Moore, who settled in the area after WWII and opened a grocery store.

"My daddy was a grocer. He was always feeding people without asking them to pay and doing things he never let others know about, but my sister and I knew," Ray said.

John Moore also worked as a local realtor and appraiser. He even served the community as mayor in the 60s. Allois Moore, a retired school teacher, impacted generations of Carthage residents through her work as a teacher and through church activities.

The parents also taught their daughters that hardships in life can be overcome.

The flu epidemic of 1917 is when John Moore was dealt a devastating blow. He was orphaned when his parents and an aunt and uncle died in the flu epidemic. That's when John Moore and his sister, along with three cousins went to live with his grandparents.

By the age of 13, Moore was on his own and trying to make his way in life.

"He was very much about giving back, because he did without," Ray said.

Allois Moore was no stranger to the harsh realities of life while growing up either.

"Mother was a child of sharecroppers. They both knew what hunger and hard work are," Ray said.

Growth of a garden

After the newscast, Ray got in touch with the USDA in Washington, D.C. to find out how she could establish a People's Garden in her community. This call led her to Matt Feno, a district conservationist for the USDA-Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) in Carthage.

"It's great that Jane and Jill have decided to take a proactive step forward and donate this portion of the family land back to the community to raise produce to be distributed locally for those in need," Feno said. "I'm excited to help make their vision become a reality. This garden is an excellent opportunity for educational outreach and to bring together working relationships within the community."

Work began immediately. The site was mowed and plowed, lighting was installed and planning meetings began. Today, the garden area is bordered by a new wooden fence. Mulch donated by the City of Carthage has been spread across the area and a watering system is underway.

Residents have already offered their time and equipment. Doug Buchan, a Master Gardener who lives in Carthage, has taken a lead role in the garden's layout and design. He works alongside the planning committee in deciding which fruits and vegetables to plant and when.

"We choose the hardiest and most useful for Mission Carthage so we can utilize it the best," said Buchan.

Garden plans also include fruit trees, ornamentals, pollinators and opportunities for rainwater harvesting. A spring garden dedication is being planned.
Burkindine returned to Carthage during the holiday season and saw their dream becoming a reality.

"We didn't even stop at the house. We had to drive by there first thing. It's really eye catching," Burkindine said. "It's the sort of thing everybody in town is going to be watching and asking - What is that?"

The sisters' efforts have gotten the attention of U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack in Washington, D.C., who highlighted their efforts during a recent video message on the national initiative.

"This story demonstrates the power that gardens have to make a difference in local communities," Vilsack said during the video message.

Washington, D.C. is a long way from Carthage, Texas, but People's Gardens still share common goals, such as feeding the hungry. Whether at the national or local level, people and communities are benefiting from these gardens.

"It was the thing to do. There never was a doubt in our mind," said Burkindine.

For more information on the Carthage garden contact Matt Feno, NRCS, at (903) 693-3424 ext. 3. Visit for more information on the People's Garden national initiative.

Soil preparation work

Janet Shrewsbury and Jane Ray standing at perimeter fence.

Soil preparation work began this past fall on the People's Garden at the U.S. Department of Agriculture's service center in Carthage, Texas. Sisters Jane Ray and Jill Burkindine, who grew up in Carthage, donated the land for the garden. Produce grown from the garden will benefit Mission Carthage, an organization that feeds area families in need.

Janet Shrewsbury, executive director of Mission Carthage, left, and Jane Ray, right, stand at the recently completed perimeter fence of the People's Garden at the U.S. Department of Agriculture's service center in Carthage, Texas.

Rick Leopold discusses planting decisions with Jane Ray. Doug Buchan and Matt Feno inspecting  a hand planter.

Planning meetings continue in anticipation of a spring dedication of the People's Garden in Carthage, Texas. Rick Leopold, USDA-Natural Resources Conservation Service conservation agronomist, standing, discusses planting decisions with landowner Jane Ray (sitting at the table).

Doug Buchan, a Master Gardener from Carthage, left, and Matt Feno, USDA-Natural Resources Conservation Service district conservationist, right, inspects a hand planter that could be utilized once planting rows are established at the People's Garden at the U.S. Department of Agriculture's service center in Carthage, Texas.