On Tuesday, there was an interesting AP story in my local newspaper describing how many Americans are turning to gardening as the recession has become more and more serious. I found it interesting that in not only this article, but in several similar articles, journalists are using the term “Recession Garden” rather than the term used by most of us who write about sustainable farming and gardening “Victory Garden.”
As I have written and talked about this movement, I have had many people ask me, “Just what is a Victory Garden?” Basically, during WWI and WWII, millions of Americans planted Victory Gardens to help the war effort by conserving resources, namely food, and becoming self-sufficient so that other resources would be available to the war effort.
Historian and Food and Society Fellow Rose Hayden-Smith points out the benefits and the importance of Victory Gardens on her blog. As she states, “Nearly 40% of the fresh fruits and vegetables consumed stateside during 1943 were grown in school, home and community gardens.” She concludes by discussing how Americans were providing a service to the country and points out that, “Gardens were not a diversion…through gardening efforts, Americans made significant contributions to the war effort.”
Think about it. Backyard growers like you and me grew almost half of the fresh produce at that time. That number just astonishes me! And all because people chose to get involved and help not only themselves, but a greater cause, a greater good.
How so? These gardens not only allowed them to make it through the hard times of the war by reducing their food budgets and helping them eat more healthfully, but it led to other positive changes on a larger scale by reducing food miles and saving fuel and other transportation costs, and it provided more food where it was needed.
Eleanor Roosevelt led by example in WWII by planting a victory garden on the White House front lawn to encourage all Americans to plant their own victory gardens. So, the question is who will lead us today?
Many are hoping it will be President Obama. I wrote about this in my post about the campaign to get a White House Garden planted. The non-profit group Eat the View is encouraging the President to replant a large organic victory garden on the White House Lawn with the produce going to the White House kitchen and to local food pantries.
The group sees this as not only a way for him to lead by example to meet the global challenges of food security, climate change, and energy independence, but to show how organic gardens improve individual health and ease the rising cost of food, just as they had done during WWI and WWII.
As those involved in the Eat the View campaign point out, it’s not only the downturn in the economy that has led to this new “Victory Garden” movement. It comes from a renewed call for eating locally grown produce that has led this new movement over the past few years. It’s only in the past year that it has gained momentum due to the current challenges Americans face in making ends meet.
Examples of this renewed interest in Victory Gardens can be found all across the nation. One of the most well known is the Victory Garden pilot project in San Francisco. Funded by the City of San Francisco, the project aims to turn backyards, rooftops, and unused land into organic gardens/city farms. For them, victory has been redefined to mean urban sustainability, with victory seen as growing food for increased local food security and reducing food miles.
Last summer, Slow Food Nation, worked in collaboration with Victory Gardens 2008+ to plant a Victory Garden at San Francisco City Hall for Slow Food Nation. As stated on its web site, the group believes it has “heralded the era of self-sufficiency by creating an edible garden in the heart of San Francisco’s Civic Center. Planted on the same site as the post-World War II gardens 60 years ago, the Slow Food Nation Victory Garden demonstrated the potential of a truly local agriculture practice, uniting and promoting Bay Area urban gardening organizations and producing fresh, healthy food for those in need.”
As part of this, in November 2008, they donated over 1,000 pounds of fresh produce to those in need through a partnership with the San Francisco Food Bank.
Their work and efforts is something that I believe we should all aspire to achieve because it is possible and it is necessary.
Update: During the week of March 16, First Lady Michelle Obama broke ground on an organic garden at the White House! Send your note of appreciation to Michelle Obama.