By Richard Keller, editor, AgProfessional
It's officially farmers' market and "People's Gardens" season, according to the USDA. I'm sure all farmers and ranchers are really proud that the USDA is using limited resources in a budget-challenged time to promote and conduct programs emphasizing urban citizens growing garden vegetables and consumers buying locally grown vegetables and fruits.
I previously questioned the "Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food" investment by USDA. Now the department is spending big money and time to promote how gardens in urban centers of the U.S. can have a huge impact on providing healthy foods for communities and charities. Again, USDA's message seems to be that conventionally grown fruits and vegetables grown by large-scale growers are not as healthy as locally grown "sustainable" garden-grown foods that are sometimes bug-infested and fungus-infected.
Ag Secretry Tom Vilsack announced that more than 400 small plot People's Gardens have been established in urban areas across the country. This is the second year for People's Gardens. Vilsack had nerve enough to claim that People's Gardens are a major aspect of USDA's responsibilities. "Last year, I decided to visibly remind folks that gardening is at the front and center of what we do here at USDA," he said.
There are two Washington, D.C., locally grown projects being used as tourist attractions. The USDA Farmers' Market is held Fridays on the National Mall with the theme "In Our Neighborhood," and it is next to the USDA's People's Garden. Special educational events about growing your own foods and eating healthy will be conducted during the summer.
The People's Gardens established across the country required involvement by local USDA personnel. The People's Gardens have to be operated under similar codes of operation with the common purposes of benefiting the local community, being a collaborative effort between organizations and groups in the community and incorporating sustainable gardening practices.
This all is a big warm and fuzzy for the President's wife. "USDA is also collaborating with First Lady Michelle Obama to emphasize the link between gardening and healthy lifestyles, and a key component is educating our youth through the use of gardens," according to the USDA announcement.
The question is educating about what; the message seems to be that large farming operations grow bad food treated with pesticides. From all the hype about these programs, it is obvious that urban youth and families are not being educated about the good aspects of growing large volumes of healthy foods to feed the world.
The USDA boasted that last year's 124 People's Gardens resulted in 34,000 pounds of produce donated to local charities during the whole growing season. That's good, but let's put it into perspective. One 18-wheeler truck when loaded commonly weighs a maximum of 80,000 pounds. So, that 34,000 pounds is basically one semi-truck load of produce.
Look at all the trucks that roll into grocery stores delivering vegetables and fruits daily. People's Gardens and farmers' markets are a side project that shouldn't be using limited resources to undermine the contribution of the U.S. farmers and ranchers.
We need the USDA to focus its pittance budget for production agriculture on what really counts — growing volume crops, raising livestock for meat, producing the volume of crops needs to feed all Americans and assisting with food export to the rest of the world.