People’s Garden Builds Sense of Community in Costa Rica

By Kelly Stange, Agricultural Attaché, U.S. Embassy, San Jose, Costa Rica

The Foreign Agricultural Service office in San Jose broke ground on our People’s Garden in Fall 2009. Ever since that day our embassy employees and their families, as well as members of the local community, have learned about the benefits of eating fresh, healthy foods. 

“With our People’s Garden, we not only come together as a community to grow healthy foods, we also grow respect for the earth and for those who farm,” said Anne Slaughter Andrew, the U.S. Ambassador to Costa Rica. “What a great opportunity for our community—especially the children—to have a first-hand experience with ‘know your farmer, know your food’.”

This garden is part of USDA’s People’s Garden Initiative, which challenges USDA employees to establish People’s Gardens at USDA posts in communities worldwide. People’s Gardens vary in size and content, but they all have a common purpose of helping better the community and environment.

Those who maintain the Costa Rica garden grow a variety of plants, some native to the area and others more common in the United States. Many of these plants, such as certain lettuces and herbs, are not often available locally for purchase. Of course, learning to grow these in a tropical climate is always an experiment, but I regularly enjoy the lettuce as part of my lunchtime salads! Garden signs are displayed in both Spanish and English, which helps prompt conversation with locals who pass by the garden on a regular basis. When they choose to stop to admire the array of vegetables and herbs, many give advice on alternative ways of maintaining the garden. 

The garden also provides an opportunity to teach embassy children how food is produced and allows them to experience the full cycle of planting and harvesting. 

“My five-year-old son loved learning how to plant seeds and found it quite rewarding,” said Sara Roy, an embassy employee. “I loved seeing him learn to do something, and I know it's a skill he can use now with his dad and me.”