The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is expanding its People’s Garden Initiative to include eligible gardens nationwide, and that means urban gardens of all kinds across Illinois. School gardens, community gardens, urban farms, and small-scale agriculture projects in rural, suburban and urban areas can be acknowledged as a “People’s Garden” if they register on the USDA website and meet certain criteria, including benefitting the community, working together, incorporating conservation practices and educating the public. People’s Garden locations will be listed on a map on the USDA website and featured in USDA communications as well as provided with a People’s Garden sign. 

The only People’s Garden in the Quad City area is at the River Valley District Library, 214 S. Main Street in Port Byron. It’s known as the River Valley District Library Pollinator Garden and is managed by the Wild Ones Quad Cities Chapter. To see the location of other People’s Gardens in the U.S., click here.

“We welcome gardens nationwide to join us in the People’s Garden effort and all it represents,” says Ivan Dozier, State Conservationist for the NRCS in Illinois. “Local gardens across the country share USDA’s goals of building more diversified and resilient local food systems, empowering communities to come together around expanding access to healthy food, addressing climate change and advancing equity.” 

USDA originally launched the People’s Garden Initiative in 2009. It’s named for the “People’s Department,” Abraham Lincoln’s nickname for USDA, which was established during his presidency in 1862. People’s Gardens grow fresh, healthy food and support resilient, local food systems; teach people how to garden using conservation practices; nurture habitat for pollinators and wildlife and create greenspace for neighbors.

“We encourage existing gardens and new gardens to join the movement. Growing local food benefits local communities in so many ways, and USDA can offer technical resources to help,” says Illinois Executive Director for the Farm Service Agency Scott Halpin. “Also, it’s a great way to connect with your local USDA team members.” 

To learn more about People’s Garden or to register one, visit the People’s Garden webpage. Each garden’s location and information will be displayed on a map. USDA will send a “People’s Garden” sign to each garden and encourage continued engagement through photos and information sharing. Gardens on federal property, such as USDA offices, are required to donate produce.

To be eligible, gardens should: 

  • Benefit the community by providing food, green space, wildlife habitat and education space. 
  • Be a collaborative/partnership effort that includes groups working together with USDA agencies, food banks, after school programs, Girl Scouts, Master Gardeners, Soil and Water Conservation Districts etc.
  • Incorporate conservation management practices, such as using native plant species, rain barrels, integrated pest management and xeriscaping. 
  • Educate the public about sustainable gardening practices and the importance of local, diverse and resilient food systems providing healthy food for the community. 

New gardens will join the People’s Garden at USDA headquarters in Washington, D.C. and 17 other flagship gardens established earlier this year, including the one in Chicago. The People’s Garden Initiative is part of USDA’s broader efforts to advance equity, support local and regional food systems and access to food and encourage use of conservation and climate-smart practices. “If your garden is already put away for the year, don’t worry—you can still sign up and register to be involved in 2023,” Dozier says.