The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) has declared April to be “National Gardening Month,” and Vermont is celebrating.

“Vermonters care very deeply about where there food comes from,” said Vermont’s Ag Secretary, Chuck Ross. “So it is no surprise that gardens play an important role here in our state.”

According to the Vermont Community Garden Network (VCGN), the state has more than 400 community gardens. Located at schools, parks, and shared spaces across the state, these community gardens provide many benefits. VCGN notes that community gardens help neighbors develop friendships and support systems, allow children to try new foods, build awareness of environmental issues, and help transform neglected land into productive space that provides fresh, affordable fruits and vegetables.

Vermont also has a robust network of Master Gardeners. Since the University of Vermont Extension founded the Master Gardener program in 1991, more than 3,000 Vermonters have completed the course, which includes 45 hours of instruction in plant and soil science. Students are also required to complete a 40 hour internship, focused on garden projects that benefit the community. Currently, there are more than 900 certified Extension Master Gardeners in the state, who are actively servicing their communities by performing outreach and education activities (minimum of 20 hours annual service to their communities).

Vermont has one of the nation’s most robust Farm-to-School programs – 89% of Vermont schools report that they participate in Farm-to-School programming. Gardens are an important part of the curriculum for many of these schools.

This is the first year National Gardening Month has been recognized by the USDA.  Secretary Tom Vilsack signed the official declaration earlier this month. However, the National Gardening Association (NGA), headquartered in Vermont (Williston), has been promoting National Gardening Month as an awareness-building opportunity for many years.