DOINews: Sustainability at Work: Summer Interning with DOI's National Business Center

Last edited 09/05/2019

Interns Meagan Downey and Sarah Hussain kneeling in DOI's organic garden and picking an eggplant.
From left, Meagan Downey and Sarah Hussain, interns of DOI's Office of Secretary Internship program, pick an eggplant during a harvest session. Photo by NBC.
Side-by-side photos of intern Sarah Hussain holding up a large basket of produce as she stands beside a Feds Feed Families sign and Deputy Secretary David J. Hayes presenting the basket of produce to to Cecelia Vergaretti, Capital Area Food Bank.
At left, Sarah Hussain, NBC summer intern, shows off DOI organic fresh produce at Feds Feed Families kickoff event on July 16. At right Deputy Secretary of the Interior David J. Hayes presents more than 50 pounds of fresh produce from the garden to Cecelia Vergaretti, senior director, Capital Area Food Bank during the event. Photos by NBC.
Group photo of DOI organic garden volunteers kneeling in front of one of the planting beds
DOI organic garden volunteers pause for a group photo during a harvest session. (From left, Brian Heath, Brenda Woods, Laura Shields, Meagan Downey and Sarah Hussain.) Photo by NBC.

Ripe squash, green peppers, fresh tomatoes, and aromatic basil are the daily summer offerings at the Department of the Interior's organic garden. One of the perks of interning at the National Business Center is the opportunity to tend DOI's organic garden. This garden is a pleasure to explore; it consists of 28 planting beds and is now in its third year of existence.

DOI's Organic Garden and Sustainability

Recently I and other interns from DOI's Office of the Secretary Internship Program participated in a summer harvest session in this garden. We donned our gloves and carried our tools and harvested an array of vegetables. And as we filled baskets with fresh vegetables, I thought American marine biologist and conservationist Rachel Carson would be proud of us.

Part of an overall sustainability effort under the leadership of DOI Deputy Assistant Secretary Andrew Jackson, Technology, Information & Business Services, DOI's organic garden complies with the green initiatives of President Obama's Executive Order 13514: Federal Leadership in Environment, Energy, and Economic Performance. Signed in 2009, the order sets sustainability goals for federal agencies, which include greenhouse-gas emissions reduction, water conservation, and promotion of environmentally responsible products and technologies.

First lady Michelle Obama led by example, the same year, when she personally dug up a patch of the south lawn at the White House to begin planting an organic vegetable garden. The idea was that growing more food locally and organically, could lead to more healthful eating and reduce reliance on huge industrial farms that use more oil for transportation and chemicals for fertilizer.

DOI's garden is completely free of all pesticide/chemical fertilizer use and has an irrigation system that keeps it watered daily. It is kept fertile by organic material that is created by DOI's composting program.

The Garden Gives Back to the Community

On Monday, July 16, NBC donated the produce collected, a total of 50 pounds, from the effort of volunteers/interns to the Feds Feed Families kickoff event, with DOI Deputy Secretary David J. Hayes and OPM Director John Berry. Feds Feed Families has donated 8 million pounds of food to local food banks since its start-up three years ago! The produce donated by DOI's organic garden was well received by Cecelia Vergaretti, senior director of Capital Area Food Bank, and she said, “It will be gone by tomorrow!” Last year DOI was able to donate 400 pounds of produce from the garden to Capital Area Food Bank and 200 pounds to the DOI cafeteria for daily meals.

DOI's Organic Garden — Possible Partnerships

DOI wishes to establish partnerships with organizations, such as the American Farm Bureau and City Blossoms to create long-term relationships for the benefit of the organic garden and DOI.

The American Farm Bureau represents farm and ranch families united for the purpose of analyzing their problems and formulating action to achieve educational improvement, economic opportunity and social advancement. AFB has a viable internship program that DOI hopes to integrate within its organic garden to better educate employees. And City Blossoms is a local Washington, D.C., nonprofit organization focused on youth programming around urban gardens. The exchange of expertise between these groups will ensure that the garden is sustained and kept alive in the future.

Green initiatives within the federal government are designed to set examples for the rest of the nation. An organic garden is more than just a means of providing food for a community or a venue for youth to learn. It is a model of future sustainable practices and creation of viable green spaces.

NBC promotes creating a climate of employee engagement, learning and growth. Contact Bill Brannon, NBC or Sarah Hussain, NBC, at (202) 208-2222, to come and help out at the organic garden!

By: Sarah Hussain,intern, NBC

July 20, 2012

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