The First USDA People’s Garden in South Florida

By Ana Maria Silva, USDA Marketing Intern

Florida International University’s Organic Garden gained recognition from the U.S. Department of Agriculture as part of the People’s Garden Initiative. FIU is a student-centered urban public research university that is locally and globally engaged.

Both the organic garden and FIU's agro-ecology program was founded in 2005 by FIU professors Mahadev Bhat and Krish and funded by USDA educational grants. Once a week students from the agro-ecology program and the garden club meet to work at the garden and search for ways to reduce waste and conserve energy. Not only is the garden open to all FIU students, it is also open to teachers and students from other schools for research and educational purposes.

According to students, the garden uses little or no synthetic soil or pesticides. ``We always look for organic solutions,'' said Andrew Jungman, a senior majoring in environmental studies. ``We squeeze caterpillars' guts onto plants to deter insects, and we feed compost like orange peels to worms to use their poop or castings to create a very rich soil.'' They also conserve water and fertilizer by using a drip irrigation system that lets water drip slowly to the root of the plant. In addition, the garden features a meditation section surrounded by edible plants like basil and lemon balm.

``FIU students are very committed to making the organic garden a model for other urban institutions of higher education, “said Vladimir Diaz with the USDA Hispanic-Serving Institutions National Program. “The community will greatly benefit from this environmentally friendly initiative.” The FIU Organic Garden is the first USDA People’s Garden on any university in South Florida.

In 2009, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack created an initiative to recognize community gardens that promote sustainable, healthy and local community food production in the country. In order to qualify, the garden must be a collaborative effort between volunteers within the community and gardeners. It must create spaces that the public can use and employ practices that nurture, maintain and protect the environment.