WASHINGTON — First Lady Michelle Obama traveled across Washington to the Agriculture Department on Feb. 19 to thank USDA employees for their service and to present Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack with a magnolia tree seedling from a White House tree to be planted in the People’s Garden that will be built in front of the USDA headquarters.
The People's Garden in Washington is part of a community gardens project that Vilsack is planning at USDA facilities around the world, including Farm Service Agency and Natural Resources and Conservation Service offices,, to encourage more sustainable landscaping.
Michelle Obama appeared at the department's Jefferson Auditorium. She was introduced by Vilsack and noted that she had gotten to know the former Iowa governor on the campaign trail.
"When you run for president you get to know Iowa," she joked. The first presidential caucuses are held in Iowa.
Obama also praised the economic stimulus plan's clean energy technology component, much of which will be run by USDA, and also predicted that the housing plan announced Feb. 18 will help homeowners deal with the mortgage crisis.
Standing and sitting behind Michelle Obama were 18 USDA employees who had worked for the federal government for more than 30 years. She told them that the president and the other political appointees can accomplish their goals "only because of the work you do."
Obama presented Vilsack with a seedling from a magnolia tree that President Andrew Jackson planted on the south portico of the White House in honor of his wife, Rachel. Vilsack said he would plant it in the garden that he dedicated on Feb. 12, the 200th anniversary of the birth of President Abraham Lincoln.
Returning to nature
At that ceremony, Vilsack broke a pavement walkway and said USDA will eliminate 1,250 square feet of unnecessary paved surface at the USDA headquarters and return the landscape to grass. Advocates for the Chesapeake Bay Watershed praised the pavement breaking, saying the growth of impervious surfaces in the Washington area has interfered with the watershed.
Visack said 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, according to a USDA news release.
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 Natural Resources Conservation Service is in charge of development of the new garden in Washington and professional landscapers will do most of the heavy work. But Vilsack also said USDA employees could volunteer to work in the garden.