Lincoln, Gardens and a Rose

I was thinking of whipping up some thoughts on the new People’s Garden initiative sparked by the USDA and summed up now in a brochure (PDF) . But then I discovered this HuffPo post by Rose Hayden-Smith, easily the country’s foremost (and most pleasant!) “victory garden” scholar. I figured I could fill you in on her post and offer my response.

Rose (and I’m going to call her that because she’s my friend) provides a wonderful overview of the connections between Abraham Lincoln and the USDA initiative’s name:

It is fitting that the USDA should choose to honor President Lincoln through the creation of a People’s Garden. When Lincoln established the USDA in 1862, at a time when more than half the population of the country was involved in agriculture, he referred to it as “The People’s Department.” It’s a description that is as true today as it was then.

It’s easy to draw parallels between our contemporary situation (two wars, a nation essentially divided) to the one that in which Lincoln found himself in the 1860s.

Yet, as Rose notes:

Despite these challenges, Lincoln had an unshakeable belief that the Union would prevail. He knew that a united America would need new farmers to homestead the vast continent that held so much promise. He knew that educational institutions — land grant institutions that literally arose from the land itself — would be needed to train a new generation of American farmers in a nation no longer divided by civil war.

Rose, quoting an 1859 speech by Lincoln, reveals how he viewed the act of growing food as being, essentially, patriotic.

… the cultivation of land – even “the smallest quantity of ground” – supported freedom and independence. [Lincoln] said, “…and ere long the most valuable of all arts, will be the art of deriving a comfortable subsistence from the smallest area of soil. No community whose every member possesses this art, can ever be the victim of oppression of any of its forms. Such community will be alike independent of crowned-kings, money-kings, and land-kings….”

She wraps up her own post by saying the very thing that I planned to say here: that the USDA should, in the spirit of Lincoln, move forward with vigor to establish not just community-created People’s Gardens at USDA sites but to formally and actively encourage home gardens as well.

As I’ve noted before, this kind of initiative would essentially be a rebranding and promotion of existing gardening programs in cooperative extension offices nationwide. This being the Information Age, I can’t imagine that’d be too difficult. In many ways, Mrs. Obama’s new Let’s Move anti-obesity campaign could be a model, seeing as the website routes users to content on sites such as–you guessed it–the USDA.

Reading Rose’s post, thinking of Lincoln, and looking at the calendar… I guess what I’m wondering right now is why someone at the USDA or The White House couldn’t get moving on this sooner rather than later. Like NOW. Yes, we bloggers, authors, advocates and (and so many others) have been talking about the importance of cultivating food at home for some time now, but to reach the millions and millions of people who need to hear this message, we’ve got to get a bigger microphone but quick.

That’s why I’m with Rose. I think the USDA is the party to seriously start this garden party.

Explore More:
• The People’s Garden initiative has a Twitter account (@PeoplesGarden).
• In addition to posting at HuffPo, Rose Hayden-Smith has a website full of useful information.


  1. The Dinner Garden spoke with the Director of The People’s Garden last week. We are so excited to see the USDA get behind a project like this and are looking forward to working with them to help people grow their own food. With Mrs. Obama’s Let’s Move campaign, The Dinner Garden, and The USDA campaign, I think we will see some exciting changes in the future!

    • Pamela,

      Was it you, or was it Casey Barton, who once mentioned growing Orange Chiffon swiss chard, and it lasting into the summer? If it was you, did you start it from seed, or where did you find it?

      • I think it was Casey, but am not sure. I know last year she did a post about swiss chard being incredibly resilient.

  2. I am honored and flattered that you would use my work. Thank you. I agree with everything you say – and thank you for your ongoing support. You inspire me!

    • As the new era of home garden popularity unfolds, I really want to make sure that this blog has all the “significant” posts and articles referenced here for posterity. I felt this latest one, by you (Rose), was especially worth preserving and promoting. And since you’ve been to the USDA garden and met with Vilsack’s staff in D.C. (if I’m recalling several of last year’s events all correctly), I think you’ve got the best “read” on the USDA’s potential today. So, if you think it’s possible, then I believe it really is.

  3. I LOVE this post! And I LOVE Lincoln – and find it so interesting to read about his connection and views of the USDA. Thanks for the enlightenment today! Makes ‘just another day off of work’ so much more meaningful!

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