- Author: Rose Hayden-Smith
My work as an historian of wartime gardening efforts is a small piece of my larger work as an historian of the American homefront during wartime. Without understanding the battlefront, one cannot truly understand the homefront. (And one cannot understand the American homefront without comparing it to other homefronts, so I find myself studying other nations, as well). I am in the odd position of being a person adamantly opposed to war, but also its constant student.
When talking about the power Victory Gardens had on the American homefront in particular, it's easy to focus on the positive, and I do. There's the fact that Americans increased food production and improved their diets during a period of challenge. That they used gardening as a way to create common purpose among a diverse people. That gardens provided a means to re-introduce a producer ethic that had been increasingly lost in a nation that was becoming more consumer-oriented, and to educate a younger generation about their food system. And so much more of value during wars that were horrific.
I sometimes find my current framework challenged by individuals who view Victory Gardens within the larger context of war and the unhealthy sort of nationalism that often parades as patriotism. They view the context of war as divisive. I appreciate their concern, because I struggle with the ambiguity and those concerns on a daily basis.
Recently, I was intereviewed by Lisa Kivirist, a writer/innkeeper/ecopreneur/organic grower who is doing important work in the area of rural women and economy. Lisa is also a Food and Society Policy Fellow. The article appears under the title Planting Patriotism: Recreating The Victory Gardens For Modern Times In the article, Lisa quotes me. I include that quote - and some of Lisa's comments - here to clarify my philosophy about Victory Gardens, and why I think the term works today.
Lisa: "...Hayden-Smith isn’t a historian stuck in the past – she’s an advocate championing bringing the Victory Garden concept back to create a sustainable food system for future generations. Historically, World War II Victory Gardens were kitchen gardens planted to help relieve wartime food shortages. Hayden-Smith defines Victory Gardens more broadly:
Rose: “A Victory Garden today can be any garden with a purpose that you define personally. That purpose can be a family project to raise food for your household or a community effort to grow produce for a local food bank or whatever else you see as a need.”
Lisa: "Such mission based gardening moves our food choices beyond our own personal plate and into the political realm: Make a statement with your garden, vote by example for self-sufficiency and independence. Why rekindle the Victory Garden concept today?"
Rose: “Victory Gardens showcase patriotism in its truest sense, with each of us taking personal responsibility for doing our individual part to create a healthy, fair and affordable food system."
I want to thank Lisa for encouraging me to articulate my philosophy. I hope you'll learn more about her work and visit her website.
The American homefront today is far different than the homefronts of WWI or WWII. While Victory Gardens have little formal connection with our nation's current military involvements, they have everything to do with purpose, personal mission and goals, and a sustainable food future.
"A Garden for Everyone. Everyone in a Garden."
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