I collect gardening catalogs. To me, they represent life and productivity and the promise of family, good food and good health. They also provide a link to a simpler, agrarian past that I find comforting and restorative in these unsettling times. In a world where oil gushes unabated into the Gulf of Mexico, violence seems unchecked, compassion towards the less fortunate seems to have evaporated and economic misery abounds, I find gardening catalogs a refuge of optimism. We need fewer bad things in this world and more good gardens.
I’ve spent more time this year sitting in the chair in my garden, thinking about what this small cultivated area says about these times, this world and my life. I’ve resisted buying many seeds this year; like others, the economy gives me jitters. Not that I’m without hope about the economy or the potential of gardens in this current presidential administration. Especially the latter, as the residents of the White House look favorably on sustainable and local food systems. Like our family, the first family has a garden on the front lawn. What’s more affirming than a front yard garden in hard times like these?
In hard times, Americans have always turned to gardening.
The Victory Gardens of World War I and World War II - and the garden efforts of the Great Depression - helped Americans weather hard times. These gardens helped the family budget; improved dietary practices; reduced the food mile and saved fuel; enabled America to export more food to our allies; beautified communities; empowered every citizen to contribute to a national effort; and bridged social, ethnic, class and cultural differences during times when cooperation was vital. Gardens were an expression of solidarity, patriotism, and shared sacrifice. They were everywhere...schools, homes, workplaces, and throughout public spaces all over the nation. No effort was too small. Americans did their bit. And it mattered.
Consider this: In WWI, the Federal Bureau of Education rolled out a national school garden program and funded it with War Department monies. Millions of students gardened at school, at home, and in their communities. A national Liberty Garden (later Victory Garden) program was initiated that called on all Americans to garden for the nation and the world. The success of home gardeners (and careful food preservation) helped the U.S. increase exports to our starving European Allies.
The WWII experience was equally successful. During 1943, some polls reported that 3/5ths of Americans were gardening, including Vice President Henry Wallace, who gardened with his son. That same year, according to some estimates, nearly 40% of the fresh fruits and vegetables consumed stateside were grown in school, home and community gardens. In addition to providing much-needed food, gardening helped Americans unite around a positive activity. Gardens gave all Americans a way to provide service to the nation, enabling citizens on the homefront to make significant contributions to the war effort.
Our nation again finds itself in challenging times. School, home and community gardens provide a way to respond positively to this period of uncertainty and change.
Will you do your bit?
Kids, Submit Your Own "Vision Video" for Food Independence Day
If you know a youth that has a green thumb, thinks growing food in your own garden is cool, or is a lover of fresh, healthy vegetables, organizers of "Food Independence Day" want you to submit a "vision video" sharing "Why I'm a Victory Grower." Is your dream to become a farmer and spend your days outside in the field? Do you hope to one day feed others with the food you grow? That makes you a Victory Grower, and one of hundreds of thousands of kids who realize growing your own food is fun, healthy and patriotic.
Food Independence Day is a grassroots group of individuals encouraging others to celebrate this 4th of July and the entire summer by eating food grown locally. The "Why I'm a Victory Grower" video campaign is a way for kids who love garden food to share their stories and celebrate food independence. I'm proud to be part of this collaborative effort.
To participate and receive a free one-year membership and a packet of seeds from Seed Savers, log on to TEL*A*VISION (www.telavision.tv) to access the free tools that will help you easily create a vision video. Tell us why you're a Victory Grower and how that affects who you want to be and what you want to do in the future. Maybe you just really like playing in the dirt, but deep down, gardening, farming or otherwise raising good food supports the American economy, preserves natural resources and can help stamp out hunger.
Tell us your "Why I'm a Victory Grower" story by September 1, and your vision video could be one of five selected to be shown to important leaders in the good food movement at the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy (IATP) Food and Society Fellows Summit in Washington, D.C., September 9-11, 2009.
Creating your vision video is fun and easy. Take photos of your garden, the fresh vegetables on your dinner plate, the farmers market or community garden, local farms or choose from free images from the Food and Society Fellows flickr site(http://www.flickr.com/photos/fasfellows/favorites) and combine them with music and graphics from the TEL*A*VISION Web site. Most importantly, make the video your vision by sharing your ideas, experiences and goals for the future. Just watch the easy-to-follow tutorials at www.telavision.tv/tutorials or visit http://foodindependenceday.org/post/116892037/telavision for instructions.
Submit your finished video to the Food Independence Day group on TEL*A*VISION at http://www.onetruemedia.com/gallery/food_independence_day. Check it out to see sample videos and begin creating your own. For more information on kids gardening and victory gardens, visit
National Gardening Association Site
University of California
THAT'S MY PAGE!
4-H Junior Master Gardener Program
Cornell Garden-Based Learning
University of California Master Gardeners - school gardens
ABOUT THE "WHY I'M A VICTORY GROWER" PROJECT
The "Why I'm a Victory Grower" project was created as part of the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy's (IATP) Food and Society Fellows' Food Independence Day campaign, in partnership with TEL*A*VISION. The goal of the project is to empower children to cultivate healthy lifestyles by growing and eating fresh, whole foods and to directly involve them in the themes of Independence Day - victory and patriotism through growing their own food. Some of my best Good Food friends have been involved: Lisa Kivirist, Angie Tagtow, Roger Doiron (Eat the View), and Fred Bahnson, an emerging voice of the food and faith movement.
Rekindling the World War I and World War II victory garden campaigns to build hope and positive thinking among American families, the project taps the creativity of children nationwide by calling on them to create and share short "vision videos" online about how gardening, raising good food, soil stewardship and preserving natural resources can transform the food system in communities and the world. The "Victory Growers" theme additionally enables kids to explore related, integral themes beyond the garden to cultivate independence through other sustainable lifestyle choices.
You know this is what I'm all about. I hope you'll help children you know and love be about this, too, this summer.
ABOUT THE FOOD INDEPENDENCE DAY CAMPAIGN
The Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy (IATP) Food and Society Fellows' Food Independence Day campaign (www.FoodIndependenceDay.org) was developed to raise public awareness and media attention to the importance of home gardening and related resources as well as to introduce broader issues of personal health and nutrition, self-reliance, sustainability and independence and how these concepts relate to a good, healthy food system and public health.
TEL*A*VISION, a partnership between George Johnson and Haberman (www.modernstorytellers.com), a national brand public relations firm, was formed to help create a world that works for all. Its purpose is to counteract negativity by promoting visions of hope and possibility among youth throughout the world. For more information, or to create and share a vision for a better world, visit www.telavision.tv.
A group of us have been working with Haberman this year. They are a socially-conscious public relations firm, and I've enjoyed the collaboration with them on this project immensely.
ABOUT SEED SAVERS EXCHANGE
Seed Savers Exchange is a nonprofit, member-supported organization that serves its members, and the public, through its charitable mission of safeguarding our food future by saving and sharing the world's diverse but endangered garden heritage. Founded in 1975, Seed Savers Exchange is the largest non-governmental seed bank in the United States. The 890-acre Heritage Farm is located in Decorah, Iowa, and permanently maintains many thousands of rare and endangered vegetable varieties. The collection includes varieties native to the Americas, plus many more seeds brought to the United States by members' ancestors who immigrated from the far corners of the world. For more information, visit www.seedsavers.org.
Recently, to mark the bicentennial of Abraham Lincoln's birthday, Agricultural Secretary Tom Vilsack broke ground on The People's Garden at the U.S. Department of Agriculture. In his speech, Secretary Vilsack set a goal of creating a community garden at every USDA site in the world.
The election is over, and it's time to think about the future. Glass ceilings have been shattered, and all sorts of barriers we thought existed have disappeared. I've got gardening on my mind...it seems even more important now.
The Victory Gardens of World War I and World War II - and the garden efforts of the Great Depression - helped Americans successfully negotiate hard times. These gardens helped the family budget; improved dietary practices; reduced the food mile and saved fuel; enabled America to export more food to our allies; beautified communities; enabled every American to contribute to a national effort; and helped bridge social, ethnic, class and cultural differences during a time when cooperation was widely needed. Gardens were an expression of solidarity, of patriotism, and shared sacrifice. They were found everywhere...schools, homes, and throughout public spaces in communities all over the nation. No gardening effort was too small. Every effort counted. Americans did their bit. And it mattered.
P.S. I'm now also blogging occasionally at Civil Eats and via Newsvine. If you get an opportunity, please visit these sites. Civil Eats features a number of sustainable food systems bloggers, and you won't be disappointed with the material...it's marvelous!
Remember that song??? I remember it well. Its lyrics inspired thousands of people to come to San Francisco. Written by the Mamas and Papas John Phillips, and recorded by Scott McKenzie, the song quickly became a cultural icon.
At age 7, I was too young to travel to San Francisco during the summer of 1967. I won't miss my opportunity this time, though, and will be joining thousands of other like-minded people over Labor Day Weekend 2008 for what promises to be an amazing series of events and activities sponsored by Slow Food Nation. "Come to the Table" invites all of us to travel to San Francisco, to recognize our collective strength, to learn more about sustainable food systems, real food, and to celebrate together.
Top on my list will be a visit to the San Francisco Victory Garden at the Civic Center. In World War I and World War II, the Civic Center was home to Victory Gardens. San Francisco had extraordinarily robust wartime gardening programs, and celebrated the success and importance of this work through a series of public activities. It says a lot about the City of San Francisco that it is once again claiming civic space for such an important activity.
We can learn some important things from our past about the use of civic space for gardening. In WWI, Edith Wilson (President Wilson's second wife) grazed sheep on the White House lawn, doing her "bit" for the war effort. Eleanor Roosevelt planted a vegetable garden on the White House lawn during WWII. Photographs of Vice President Henry Wallace working in his Victory Garden, sometimes with his son, were distributed to the Press Corps during WWII. Gardens were planted in public spaces throughout the nation: parks, schools, and city-owned lots. Gardens were planted at homes, on median strips, on military bases and at workplaces...wherever Americans lived, worked, gathered, prayed for the war's end, and hoped for a brighter, more peaceful future.
In WWI and WWII, gardening claimed not only important physical space in American life, but an important place in the American psyche. Gardening was a vital expression of American civic life, bridging ethnic, socioeconomic and class differences. It was an activity to which we could devote our considerable energies without reservation. An activity that united us in hard and uncertain times.
If you're going to San Francisco, this summer, be ready to celebrate Victory Gardens, an old idea that is coming around again. Be ready to learn a lot about America's food system. Be ready to meet other people who share your dreams, your values, and who are ready for a food revolution. If you're going to San Francisco, be sure to wear some flowers in your hair. And bring your gardening tools.
"A Garden For Everyone. Everyone in a Garden."