By Cris Blackstone
When you hear “USDA” do you immediately think of the Plant Hardiness Zone Finder, which is divided in ten-degree F zones, based on average annual minimum winter temperature? You have probably used the GIS interactive version by now, and appreciate this as the standard to work with. Or does your mind go to Daniel Stone’s book on David Fairchild (The Food Explorer) and think of Fairchild’s work at the USDA Office of Foreign See and Plant Production? Fairchild introduced American agriculture business to mangoes, kale, avocados, soybeans, and nectarines, to name a few foods you are familiar with in our diets. Or somewhere in between?
The United States Department of Agriculture website (www.usda.gov) offers historical as well as the most up-to-date information you can use for your research and garden communication work. Check the tab “Natural Resources Conservation Services” and from that drop down menu, see the specific sustainability and resiliency topics, such as Soils, Water, Air, Plants and Animals, Climate Change and Organic information. Within each of these, there is more to explore, to fit your specific questions and entice your curiosity. Other areas of the website include the “Plant of the Week,” “Pollinator References,” ”Endangered Plants in the US,” and even an area for each state, listing a comprehensive inventory of the plants identified growing state-by-state.
Within the USDA website and services, you can find the National Agricultural Library, www.nal.usda.gov. (This is one of our five national libraries; with the other four being the National Library of Medicine, the Library of Congress, the National Library of Education and the National Transportation Library.) It is user-friendly, and contains information divided into main categories which could be of particular GardenComm interest. Check out the Invasives area of the website; and from there, the more specific sources referenced and outlined as research and regulations state-by-state are listed. Organizations listed and cited in the material are a wide representation of higher education, research-based, and diverse interests in the field.
Fact sheets on many of the topics we share at presentations for Master Gardeners, Community Gardens, Garden Clubs and Library Groups, are available for you to download and print and share freely. Information you might use when collaborating on a project with a municipal group, reviewing a site plan, for example, include the USDA Wetland Indicators flow chart. The various posters and fact sheets are available straight from the website, or offered with a few strategic clicks as you review what’s available. You will be doing your audience a great service by sharing this type of material – no matter if you are working on a general overview or for an article specific to a region of the country.
So, now when you hear USDA, you know it can be your initial “go to” for your work investigating many important topics. Between the site, its drop down menus and the National Agriculture Library, you certainly have the most diverse and broad-spectrum of sources available, for your work including sustainability, resilience and problem-solving in our manmade as well as our natural landscapes. With natural resources conservation as one of the initial focus points Abraham Lincoln stated in starting the USDA, we continue to value those efforts. Through appreciating gardening, whether a container on your patio, or larger scale, such as the vast flower growing industries around the world, garden communicators share imperative goals for health and well-being as well as the health of everything shared on Earth, from microbes below soil surface to the tallest sequoias and the products of all plants entering the atmosphere.
Meet the Author
Cris Blackstone is the Education Coordinator for the New Hampshire Landscape Association, a Certified NH Landscaper, University of NH Natural Resources Steward, and Master Gardener. She co-hosts “The Environmental Hour,” once-monthly radio show in seacoast NH/Maine. She serves on municipal, county and statewide Conservation Commissions or Districts and is a frequent workshop presenter or facilitator on topics from herbs to indoor plant care. Her photography work includes juried events and accompanies many of her freelance articles.