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 U.S. Department of Agriculture in Washington, D.C., telling them about the agency’s People’s Garden initiative. Ray, who grew up in Carthage, Texas, realized she had just heard how she and her sister, Jill Burkindine of Manhattan, Kan., could honor their parents and benefit their hometown community. After the newscast, Ray contacted the USDA in Washington, D.C., to learn how she could establish a People’s Garden. This call led her to Matt Feno, a district conservationist for the USDA-Natural Resources Conservation Service in Carthage. From Ray’s inspiring moment, has grown a unique People’s Garden national initiative site. It is the only privately owned initiative garden in the world. The sisters own the land where the more than one acre garden is located at the USDA Service Center in Carthage.
Fresh garden produce will benefit Mission Carthage, an organization that works to help families in need. The mission feeds 300 families of four each month from four surrounding counties. Children are a large percentage of individuals receiving food. 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.
Volunteers and NRCS employees have put in months of hard work to make the dream a reality. What began as barren land now has a decorative wooden fence around its borders. Volunteers have planted vegetable seeds and plants in the expansive area. Ornamentals have been planted and bird and butterfly houses dot the fence. Bee hives and water harvesting practices are also part of the garden’s future plans. A groundbreaking ceremony was held recently. Upwards of 100 people braved inclement weather to be a part of the dream.
“It is an example of what the Secretary envisioned,” said Livia Marqués, director of the USDA People’s Garden Initiative, adding that the garden exemplifies the mission of the national initiative, such as incorporating sustainable agriculture practices, while benefiting a community as a whole. She traveled from Washington, D.C., to speak at the event.
Numerous agencies and partners attended the ceremony and continue to volunteer and support the garden effort, such as the USDA-Natural Resources Conservation Service, Farm Service Agency and Resource Conservation and Development, Texas AgriLife Extension, Soil and Water Conservation District, the City of Carthage, Master Gardeners, Watson Organics and the Carthage Chamber of Commerce.
U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack has recognized the sisters’ efforts. He highlighted their efforts during a video message on the People’s Garden initiative. He said “this story demonstrates the power that gardens have to make a difference in local communities.” The USDA also invited Ray and Feno to speak at its first People’s Garden Summit.
Washington, D.C. is a long way from Carthage, but People’s Gardens share common goals, such as feeding the hungry. From this commitment has grown the sisters’ mission statement for Carthage’s Hometown Garden - “Feeding Our Neighbors One Family at a Time.”
Don Gohmert, state conservationist for NRCS in Texas, who traveled from Temple to speak at the groundbreaking ceremony, commented on the garden’s uniqueness: “This is so much more than just a piece of ground with plants on it.”
Submitted by Beverly Moseley, NRCS Public Affairs Specialist, Texas
Along with community members, individuals from numerous agencies and partners instrumental in bringing the garden to fruition attended the groundbreaking ceremony. Some of these included the USDA-Natural Resources Conservation Service, Farm Service Agency and Resource Conservation and Development, Texas AgriLife Extension, Soil and Water Conservation District, the City of Carthage, Master Gardeners, Watson Organics and the Carthage Chamber of Commerce. Representatives from U.S. Representative Louie Gohmert’s office and the Texas Department of Agriculture also attended.
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