On May 15, 1862, President Abraham Lincoln signed an Act of Congress establishing the United States Department of Agriculture. Lincoln would later refer to the USDA as “The People’s Department,” acknowledging the important role farming played in the lives of all American’s. At the time, half of the population lived outside of cities, and agriculture held a prominent position in the conscience of our developing nation.
A lot has changed in the one hundred and fifty years that have since passed. Today, only about two percent of American’s live on farms; and in our fast paced, narrowly focused culture many have developed a disconnect when it comes to understanding the origin of their food. Even though agriculture continues to impact each of us daily, most fail to recognize its importance. It could be questioned what this says, or what perils exist, for a society that neglects due vigilance toward such a basic need.
In light of these concerns, the Local Food Movement has gained momentum in recent years. Drawing from the philosophy that locally grown foods are healthier for both people and the environment, the movement has brought increased awareness of agricultural production and a push to return to more traditional practices. In 2009 the USDA recognized the importance of this growing trend and created “The People’s Garden” initiative. This program seeks to promote responsible food systems by encouraging the practice of community gardening across the nation.
Through this initiative, the USDA recognizes community garden projects as “People’s Gardens” if they fulfill three criteria. First of all, the project must consist of a collaborative effort between local individuals, groups, or organizations. The garden must also incorporate sustainable, ecologically sound practices. And finally, the garden must be purposed for the benefit of a community.
Tipton’s Hardacre Community Garden is recognized as a People’s Garden, and has enjoyed this status since the projects inception in 2009. In qualifying for this label, the garden is entirely volunteer driven and work is done through a combined effort of neighbors from the area. We strive to be responsible land stewards through sustainable practices such as abstaining from pesticide use, planting organic and heirloom variety seed, and reclaiming waste material for construction and other projects. And of course, the fundamental ambition of our work at Hardacre Community Garden is for the benefit of our neighbors in Cedar County and surrounding areas. While anyone is welcome and encouraged to share produce from the garden, the majority of our harvest is donated to area food pantries, care facilities, churches and other neighbors in need. In 2011, nearly five and a half tons of healthy, homegrown vegetables were distributed throughout the community (and we’re pushing to top this in 2012!) We also provide communal benefit by offering our garden as an educational resource and maintaining close ties to our horticultural heritage and local history. Through these efforts, Hardacre Community Garden exemplifies the People’s Garden initiative, and we carry that banner as one of seventy three such projects in Iowa- boasting more USDA People’s Gardens than any other state.
(Note: Our relationship with the USDA is through this recognition/honor. While we are proud to represent Tipton as a member of this initiative and do access resources available through the USDA, we are our own separate entity and not a division of or funded by the agency.)
This year, in celebration of its sesquicentennial and as a tribute to its founding father, the USDA is working with People’s Gardens to honor the past while moving forward into the future. The Department has given each People’s Garden packets of seed containing “Abraham Lincoln” Tomatoes, an heirloom variety developed in 1923 by H.W. Buckbee of Rockford, Illinois. By planting these, gardeners will essentially be growing a piece of history, as this particular seed has been collected and passed across seasons for nearly ninety years. However, in a modern day twist growers have been asked to track progress of their Abraham Lincoln tomatoes and share photos via social media with the greater People’s Garden community. This offers local food enthusiasts everywhere the opportunity to join in unison and commemorate the USDA’s contribution and advocacy of the community gardening cause.
At Hardacre Community Garden, we are also honoring our agricultural heritage with an eye to the future. In addition to taking part in the Abraham Lincoln Tomato project, we are attempting to increase community awareness of our work by developing an online presence. A facebook page was created earlier this spring to be used as a forum in sharing photos and spreading garden information. (www.facebook.com/hardacregarden) And now, 150 years to the day after Honest Abe signed off on the USDA, we are pleased to announce the launch of this, our new Hardacre Community Garden blog.
Through these media we will be able to share stories and images from our garden with friends from down the street and around the globe. It is our hope that through this campaign we will increase our network of support and further our mission of not only providing a source of healthy, locally grown food but also of being an educational asset to the community.
Through this process, we would love to engage with each of you. Please feel free to leave questions or comments on this blog or on our facebook page at anytime. Check back often for updated posts (or sign up for the email notification to the right) and by all means, please help us spread the word and reach a wider audience by sharing this page with your friends.
Thank you for your interest and ongoing support of Hardacre Community Garden. Here’s to a great 2012 season, in both our physical and virtual realms!