Agriculture Deputy Secretary Merrigan Announces More Than 300 'People's Gardens' Have Been Planted Throughout the Country | USDA Newsroom
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News Release

Release No. 0204.10
Office of Communications (202) 720-4623

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Agriculture Deputy Secretary Merrigan Announces More Than 300 'People's Gardens' Have Been Planted Throughout the Country

Merrigan Highlights First Graduating Class of Certified USDA Executive Master Gardener Program Volunteers

WASHINGTON, April 22, 2010 - Agriculture Deputy Secretary Kathleen Merrigan today said that more than 300 gardens have been designated as 'The People's Garden' across the country and urged employees to continue making plans to plant additional gardens. Merrigan made this announcement as she delivered the commencement address to the first graduating class of certified USDA Executive Master Gardener Program volunteers. This commencement marks the beginning of the first ever USDA Department-wide volunteer program for 'The People's Garden' initiative, which Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack established on Feb. 12, 2009.

"With each garden planted and every sustainable practice implemented, 'The People's Garden' initiative can demonstrate how easy it is to green our communities, take better care of our natural resources, and produce healthy fruits and vegetables," said Merrigan. "As USDA's first executive master gardeners, our volunteers will serve as ambassadors to advancing the mission of 'The People's Garden.' Collectively, this first group of volunteers will perform 2,760 hours of service to 'The People's Garden' at USDA headquarters or within their surrounding communities."

The USDA Executive Master Gardener Program is a condensed version of the executive master gardener program and was a joint collaboration between 'The People's Garden' and USDA's National Institute of Food and Agriculture. This training program included extension specialists from the University of the District of Columbia, University of Maryland, University of Kentucky, Texas A&M, New Mexico State University and the University of Nevada. Sixty-nine USDA volunteers representing several USDA agencies participated in the intense, seven week course during March and April. The volunteer program participants were taught the basics of gardening as well as a generalized study of horticulture. Topics in the program included botany, soil science, general plant health, integrated pest management, water use and conservation, wildlife management and finding answers to garden questions. All participants were required to take 16 hours of training and receive a passing score of 75 percent or higher on the final exam. To participate in the program, USDA volunteers were required to commit to 40 hours this calendar year through a combination of training, continuing education and volunteer service hours.

Last year on Earth Day, 'The People's Garden' was unveiled and opened to the public as a living exhibit of what USDA does every day. It incorporates sustainable practices, it is a collaborative effort and it benefits the community. For example, the sustainable practices used in 'The People's Garden' are examples of efforts being used to help restore the Chesapeake Bay:

  • Reducing the use of chemicals throughout our landscape;
  • Replacing annual plants with native perennials beneficial to pollinators;
  • Removing invasive species;
  • Treating storm water by creating green roofs; cisterns and rain gardens to filter sediment and trap pollutants; and
  • Creating rain gardens to trap and filter sediment and pollutants.

'The People's Garden' initiative is an effort by USDA which challenges its employees to establish gardens at USDA facilities worldwide or help communities create gardens. A 'People's Garden' can vary in size and type, but all have a common purpose - to help the community they are within and the environment.

A 'People's Garden' must include the following three components:

1. Benefit your community: Gardens benefit communities in many different ways. They can create spaces for leisure or recreation that the public can use, provide a harvest to a local food bank or shelter, be a wildlife friendly landscape or be a rain garden to absorb storm water run-off and protect the soil from erosion.

2. Be collaborative: The garden must be a collaborative effort between other volunteers, neighbors or organizations within your community. Local partnerships could carry out the mission of a People's Garden.

3. Incorporate sustainable practices: the garden should include gardening practices that nurture, maintain and protect the environment such as:

  • Capturing rainwater in rain barrels
  • Composting and mulching
  • Planting native species
  • Encouraging beneficial insects that feed on destructive pests

More information about 'The People's Garden' initiative can be found at or follow the initiative for real-time updates at


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