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USDA is trying to reach people with agriculture

WASHINGTON -- Will county Farm Service Agency, Extension Service and Natural Resources Conservation Service centers across the Upper Great Plains be among the federal offices that plant demonstration gardens as part of a national "People's Garden...

WASHINGTON -- Will county Farm Service Agency, Extension Service and Natural Resources Conservation Service centers across the Upper Great Plains be among the federal offices that plant demonstration gardens as part of a national "People's Garden" concept?

That may be the idea, according to Agriculture Deputy Secretary Kathleen Merrigan, who celebrated Earth Day April 22 by planting an organic demonstration garden on the grounds of the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Jamie L. Whitten Building.

Merrigan was flanked by Joe Brings Plenty of Eagle Butte, S.D., chairman of the Cheyenne Sioux River Sioux Tribe, who was invited to sing a Lakota song called "Remembering Grandmother Earth" and helped plant a "Three Sisters" garden that uses traditional Indian techniques for corn, beans and squash.

Merrigan says the demonstration garden can reach people with agriculture and help them "understand some of the dilemmas farmers face" and will be an educational site.

"This is where we started, this is where we're coming back," Merrigan says. "The plan is that the food is donated."

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The organic vegetable garden demonstrates "what individuals can do to embrace organic practices and healthy eating" regardless of where they live or work.

The garden will start a three-year process to become certified organic, and USDA is planning to "replicate many of these garden features at USDA properties throughout the United States.

Merrigan says not all of the USDA demonstration gardens nationwide will be organic because it's "hard to grow organic" in some areas of the country. She sidestepped the question of whether USDA is trying to promote the idea of organic vs. nonorganic vegetables and production.

"I think a lot of people are still trying to figure out what organic means, so here is the front lawn and we can use this to talk about what the standards are and how you follow through and make sure organic is organic," Merrigan says. "We're trying to promote the kind of enforcement and standards that we have. People wonder what organic is. I have seen the headline: 'What is organic?' I've seen it a number of times. They can come here; we'll explain to them the standards."

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