There was some curiosity as to what stance U.S. Department of Agriculture chief Tom Vilsack would take in his speech this week before the National Association of Wheat Growers. Surprisingly, he came as the bearer of bad tidings. According to this report:Then, I read a couple other articles on Grist. One by Tom Philpot, called More to Vilsack than Meets the Eye and another by Tom Laskawy called Vilsack sets the table: It's official: Nutrition will play a big role in reform at the USDA. Both articles allude to the change in the air at USDA. Should I be rubbing my eyes? Apparently YES, because then I found this news release from USDA today:Vilsack called on farmers to accept the political reality that U.S. farm program direct payments are under fire both at home and abroad and therefore farmers should develop other sources of income. In his remarks to the groups he said he intends to promote a far more diversified income base for the farm sector, saying that windmills and biofuels should definitely be part of the income mix and that organic agriculture will also play an increasing role.
WASHINGTON, Feb. 12, 2009 -- Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack today "broke pavement" on the inaugural USDA The People's Garden during a ceremony on the grounds of U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) commemorating the 200th birthday of Abraham Lincoln. The Secretary declared the stretch of pavement permanently closed and returned back to green, and encouraged other Administration officials and the general public to join in to protect the Chesapeake watershed.Further research on the USDA website revealed this picture of Vilsack "breaking ground" on the garden.
"It is essential for the federal government to lead the way in enhancing and conserving our land and water resources," said Vilsack. "President Obama has expressed his commitment to responsible stewardship of our land, water and other natural resources, and one way of restoring the land to its natural condition is what we are doing here today - "breaking pavement" for The People's Garden."
The dedication comes on the 200th anniversary of the birth of the 16th President of the United States, Abraham Lincoln. Lincoln founded the Department of Agriculture in 1862 and referred to it as "The People's Department" in his last annual message to Congress.
The commemoration of the Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial is only the first step in the Department of Agriculture's celebration of President Lincoln's life. During today's ceremony, Secretary Vilsack announced the goal of creating a community garden at each USDA facility worldwide. The USDA community garden project will include a wide variety of garden activities including Embassy window boxes, tree planting, and field office plots. The gardens will be designed to promote "going green" concepts, including landscaping and building design to retain water and reduce runoff; roof gardens for energy efficiency; utilizing native plantings and using sound conservation practices.
The USDA People's Garden announced today will eliminate 1,250 square feet of unnecessary paved surface at the USDA headquarters and return the landscape to grass. The changes signal a removal of impervious surfaces and improvement in water management that is needed throughout the Chesapeake Bay Watershed.
The new garden will add 612 square feet of planted space to an existing garden traditionally planted with ornamentals. The garden will showcase conservation practices that all Americans can implement in their own backyards and green spaces. As a component of the garden, pollinator-friendly plantings will not only provide important habitat for bees and butterflies, but can serve as an educational opportunity to help people understand the vital role pollinators play in our food, forage and all agriculture. The garden plot is adjacent to the site of the USDA Farmer's Market.
About 100,000 streams and rivers thread through the Chesapeake's 64,000-square-mile watershed, which is home to almost 17 million people in Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Delaware, New York and the District of Columbia. The Chesapeake Bay is the largest estuary in North America, with a length of 200 miles and 11,684 miles of tidal shoreline, more than the entire U.S. West Coast. The Chesapeake Bay supports more than 3,600 species of plants, fish and animals.
USDA leads efforts on public and private lands to help reduce the impact of nutrient and sediment pollution on wildlife habitat, forest lands and water quality, as well as supporting community involvement in managing natural resources, urban green space and land stewardship. For more information about USDA, the People's Garden, the Chesapeake Bay Watershed and other conservation and agriculture related programs available in local communities, visit a USDA Service Center or go to the USDA Web page at www.usda.gov.