We celebrated a few “firsts” today when Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack opened the 21st season of the USDA Farmers Market located outside USDA Headquarters in Washington, D.C.
The Secretary announced the first-ever partnership between USDA, the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) and the General Services Administration (GSA) to better support agencies and Federal employees who want to incorporate gardens, farmers markets and community supported agriculture programs (CSAs) into the Federal workplace.
OPM provides Government-wide guidance on health and wellness policies for Federal employees and GSA manages Federal property and offices. By working together, we can more effectively exchange ideas about how to engage thousands of employees and improve employee health and wellness in the workplace.
For 21 years my agency, the Agricultural Marketing Service, has managed the farmers market, which offers Federal employees, tourists, and neighborhood residents access to farm fresh products. The market also creates economic opportunities for local farmers, ranchers, and businesses, demonstrating how strong local and regional food systems can help support both rural and urban communities. (See the recently-revamped Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food website to learn about other ways that USDA is supporting local foods).
This year, we’re excited to announce that we have more farmers and growers at the USDA market than in previous years. And in another first, we’re launching fruit and vegetables education classes at the market. Federal employees and visitors can get a “VegUcation” and learn how to pick, prepare and store a featured, in season fruit or vegetable.
Our goal is to increase the purchase of fruits and vegetables at the market and help our customers understand what’s in season. The free 10-minute classes, taught by USDA employees from the Agricultural Marketing Service, Food and Nutrition Service, and Food Safety and Inspection Service, are offered between 11:30 a.m. and 1 p.m. In addition, each week there will be a free recipe card available. So, come get a VegUcation and stay tuned for more updates about this exciting new partnership throughout the season!
Also under this Administration, USDA has been creating additional productive and healthy work environments for its more than 100,000 employees through the People’s Garden Initiative, a Department-wide effort that encourages Federal employees to start food, wildlife, conservation, beautification, and teaching gardens on Federal property or in nearby communities. Since the Secretary created the first garden in 2009, more than 1,500 partners have volunteered over 200,000 hours in more than 2,200 gardens; resulting in the donation of 3.9 million pounds of food to support Feds Feed Families. These gardens are located on federally owned or leased property, at schools, faith-based centers, or other places within the community.
The People’s Garden and the USDA Farmers Market at USDA Headquarters are success stories of how a garden and farmers market can be incorporated into the Federal workplace in a way that benefits both employees and the broader community. As we enter into a new partnership with OPM and GSA, we look forward to hearing more examples of how these initiatives are making an impact in workplaces across the country. In the meantime, come join us at the USDA farmers market from 9am to 2pm every Friday through October 28.
For updates about the USDA Farmers Market, including the schedule for VegU classes, follow us on Twitter @USDA_AMS and look for #USDAFarmersMkt or visit www.usda.gov/farmersmarket.