A U.S. Department of Agriculture program that promotes the growth of community gardens in areas with little access to fresh food encourages community groups to register with the USDA. But social media posts misleadingly suggest the USDA wants anyone with a garden to register, “so everyone knows where the people who grow their own food are.”
Fresh and affordable fruits and vegetables are vital for the health of a community, but there are many communities in the United States that do not have access to fresh foods. These areas are known as food deserts. They are characterized by low-income areas where people have limited public transportation.
There are an estimated 19 million Americans whose communities don’t have conveniently located grocery stores or supermarkets, according to a 2017 report by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Food deserts disproportionately affect Black communities, researchers found in a paper published in Preventive Medicine.
That’s why the USDA created the People’s Garden, an initiative to help make fresh food available to communities that have barriers to access. The initiative was launched in 2009 with gardens planted at USDA facilities and in communities around the country.
In May 2022, the USDA announced a “reopening” of the program with the planting of a garden at the department’s headquarters in Washington, D.C., with plans to expand the program to include “flagship gardens” in 17 cities. Four months later, the USDA expanded the program to include “eligible gardens nationwide.”
“School gardens, community gardens, urban farms, and small-scale agriculture projects in rural, suburban and urban areas can be recognized as a ‘People’s Garden’ if they register on the USDA website and meet criteria including benefitting the community, working collaboratively, incorporating conservation practices and educating the public,” the USDA said in a Sept. 9, 2022, press release.
The People’s Garden web page has a map of all registered community gardens in the program.
But an Instagram post on Sept. 21 misleadingly suggests a nefarious intention behind the People’s Garden program. The post shows a garden in the background and a headline dated Oct. 4, 2022, that reads: “USDA now asking people to register their vegetable gardens for national database.” There are two faces in the foreground of the post. One says, “Register your garden.” The other replies: “No, I don’t think I will.”
The caption at the top of the post reads, “USDA: ‘let’s register and put you on a publicly available map so everyone knows where the people who grow their own food are.” The post received nearly 17,000 likes.
Another social media post shares a similar view of the USDA program, saying: “Man claims the USDA is cracking down on people with personal gardens that grow their own vegetables.”
But the People’s Garden program is voluntary and doesn’t require individuals to register their home gardens. The program is aimed at encouraging the creation of community farms and gardens that “produce local food, practice sustainability, and bring people together in their community,” as the USDA website explains.
The headline on the Instagram post appears to come from a 2022 article that said, “In a move that has many folks scratching their heads, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has renewed its push for the People’s Garden Initiative which now includes registering vegetable gardens nationwide.” The article also said, “But those who have been following the USDA closely for years know that they couldn’t care less about your health and nutrition.”
As we said, the posts misrepresent the USDA’s mission for the People’s Garden. Private farms and gardens aren’t eligible for the program and don’t need to register with the USDA.
Update, Oct. 3: A USDA spokesperson told us in an Oct. 3 email, “Because this is a celebration of both community and gardening, private home gardens are not eligible” to register in the People’s Garden program. There are 1,500 community gardens registered in the People’s Garden database, the spokesperson also said.
Anne E. Casey Foundation. “Food Deserts in the United States.” 13 Feb 2021.
Bower, Kelly M., et al. “The intersection of neighborhood racial segregation, poverty, and urbanicity and its impact on food store availability in the United States.” Preventive Medicine. Jan 2014.
Food Empowerment Project. “Food Deserts.” Accessed 27 Sep 2023.
Garden Center. “Keep America Beautiful and the Department of Agriculture team up to grow nearly 700 People’s Gardens.” 7 Dec 2010.
U.S. Department of Agriculture. Economic Research Service. “Low-Income and Low-Supermarket-Access Census Tracts, 2010-2015.” Jan 2017.
U.S. Department of Agriculture. “USDA Renews People’s Garden Initiative.” Press release. 3 May 2022.