Written by Jill Clothier, Iowa Earth Team Coordinator, USDA-NRCS
In November of 2009, after reading an article on the USDA website about the People’s Garden Initiative, I approached our Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) State Conservationist, Rich Sims, with the idea of planting a People’s Garden here at the Neal Smith Federal Building in Des Moines, Iowa. He was immediately receptive to the idea and we contacted General Services Administration (GSA) to start the ball rolling.
As the Iowa NRCS Earth Team Volunteer Coordinator, I am especially enthused about People’s Gardens. Not only is it a valuable learning experience about sustainable agriculture on a large or small scale, it is an exceptional volunteer opportunity. The People’s Garden Initiative brings people together – it truly is a community garden. The USDA-NRCS, Farm Services Agency, Rural Development, and GSA are working together to make our garden a reality.
Our bi-level garden will contain a variety of native Iowa plants and grasses. We are planning on designing signs that will give educational information about each native plant.
We are fortunate to have excellent input in our planning process from a variety of people including an Earth Team volunteer and Master Gardener, who drew up sketches of the garden, an NRCS Biologist, and our Federal Building Manager, as well as a host of others who are generously sharing their knowledge and experience and who are donating their time and talents.
Our People’s Garden will be an educational tool to inform our community of Iowa’s rich history of native plants. We are located downtown and are surrounded by concrete office buildings but also by schools, daycare centers, retirement centers, and apartments – all within walking distance of our garden.
I have learned so much already just by reading about other People’s Gardens. I am thankful to have the opportunity to be involved in our community garden! It is my hope that after getting our native grasses People’s Garden up and running, we will be able to develop a produce garden on the roof of the Neal Smith Federal Building.
The enthusiasm for the People’s Garden Initiative is contagious! I hope in addition to establishing People’s Gardens at USDA offices, that people will take this initiative into their own neighborhoods. I’ve spoken with several people in my own community about establishing People’s Gardens in other areas such as homeless shelters, nursing homes, schools, to name just a few. The possibilities are endless and the rewards are great!
The community aspect of the People’s Garden Initiative is inspiring. Each person with whom I’ve visited is immediately enthused and ready to participate. People who have heard about our project are already volunteering to help, bringing me seeds, suggesting ideas about rainwater collection, container gardening, compost sock gardening, to name just a few. It is rewarding to see people from all walks of life getting excited about a project, which benefits us all. The NRCS mission of “Helping People Help the Land” is a perfect match for the People’s Garden Initiative.
Rich Sims, Iowa NRCS State Conservationist, speaks before a crowd of 100 for the groundbreaking ceremony of the People's Garden at the Neal Smith Federal Building in Des Moines, Iowa.
Future site of the Neal Smith Federal Building People's Garden.