The People's Garden Initiative: Case Studies on the Mississippi Gulf Coast

Wednesday, July 24, 2013: 12:15 PM
Desert Salon 4-6 (Desert Springs J.W Marriott Resort )
Christine E. Coker , Mississippi State University, Biloxi, MS
Gary R. Bachman , Mississippi State University, Biloxi, MS
Corey Wheeler , Mississippi State University, Biloxi, MS
Jeannine May , USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service, Jackson, MS
Beth D'Aquilla , Harrison County Soil & Water Conservation District, Gulfport, MS
Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack began the People's Garden Initiative—named in honor of President Lincoln's description of USDA as the "People's Department"—in 2009 as an effort to challenge employees to create gardens at USDA facilities. It has since grown into a collaborative effort of over 700 local and national organizations all working together to establish community and school gardens across the country. The simple act of planting a garden can help unite neighborhoods in a common effort and inspire locally-led solutions to challenges facing our country—from hunger to the environment.  People's Gardens vary in size and type, but all are required to have three components in common. They must benefit the community, in some cases by creating recreational spaces and in others by providing a harvest for a local food bank or shelter. They must be collaborative—that is, the garden must be created and maintained by a partnership of local individuals, groups, or organizations. And third, they should incorporate sustainable practices. The gardens might use compost or mulch made by participants. They might contain native plants or encourage beneficial insects. They also might exemplify water conservation, for instance, capturing rain in a barrel to water the garden. Many areas of coastal Mississippi are considered food deserts.  This fact along with the slow economy, make the time right for increasing home gardening and community garden programs.  Current garden projects include East Central Lower Elementary School (ECLE), the Armed Forces Retirement Home (AFRH), and Mississippi State University’s Coastal Research and Extension Center (MSU–CREC).  The garden at ECLE was initiated by kindergarten teacher, Lisa Koen, in 2011.  Her students grow vegetables that they eat in the classroom. They also utilize a rain barrel for irrigation and learn about sustainability in the garden. The garden at the AFRH is actually a green roof occupying nearly two acres of rooftop area. The roof is accessible to residents and serves as a recreational area as well as a storm water management tool.  The garden at MSU–CREC consists of raised beds, each of which are used to demonstrate a different irrigation practice.  This garden is accessible to the public, and serves as a demonstration of small-scale, sustainable food production.  Each of these gardens exemplifies the People’s Garden Initiative’s objectives while providing learning and teaching opportunities for clients of all ages.
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