I was on the lookout for such gardens after seeing patriotic posters at an art museum recently. These posters featured vegetables. That’s right, vegetables. No guns in sight. They sprouted patriotic statements like, “Sow the Seeds of Victory: Plant and Raise Your Own Vegetables,” “Dig on For Victory” and “Uncle Sam Says Garden.”
Vegetables aren’t the usual image we have when patriotism stirs our hearts nowadays. I doubt if any of us thought of red, white or blue veggies on the Fourth! No, it was more likely fireworks, paradesand summertime classics at the Philharmonic that were on our minds.
But vegetables and gardens were very much on people’s minds during WWI. Farmers had left their fields to become soldiers, and food became scarce. Ration cards were used to limit certain items. When you were out of your allotted eggs, milk or meat, you had to wait until the next week to be allowed to get more. It was a tough time. It was tough on families and soldiers too.
Everyone needs to eat whether it’s wartime, or not. Charles Lathrop Pack did some outside-the-box thinking in March 1917 and seeded a whole new idea to the American public. Grow a Victory Garden at home! Use your yards, empty lots in your cities, and even on your rooftops (now known to be a very green way to lower electrical costs.)
The idea worked. The National War Garden Commission was created. Local initiatives to grow your own food sprouted up all around America. Men, women and children, even those who had never handled a small vegetable seed, shoveled away excuses and learned to grow their own food. It’s estimated that 20 million victory gardens were planted. Eleanor Roosevelt planted one on the White House lawn. Even agri-business, to the surprise of many, jumped on board promoting community gardening and food production. The U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates that the vegetables and fruit harvested in the Victory Gardens were an amount equal to all commercial production of vegetables—about 9-10 million tons. Think of it!
Victory gardens, a by the people for the people initiative, worked. Health,y fresh food was more available for civilians and soldiers alike. The backyard farm-to-table initiative worked in other ways too.
- Morale was boosted. Instead of feeling helpless or hopeless, those at home realized they could plan an important role. They produced a needed product. Civic morale was boosted in the process. Morale growth isn’t weighed in tons, but it sure counts.
- Families were strengthened. Growing a successful backyard garden during war times meant families raising children raised vegetables too. They worked together, learned together, spent time together, and had better family meals. Modern research shows the value of family time together around meals.
- Resourcefulness was nurtured. Americans reached inside themselves to find resourcefulness and capabilities they hadn’t before known or used. They learned to grow food, can food, and use food in different ways. They accomplished something pretty phenomenal for both themselves and for America.
- Health improved. Fresh fruit and vegetables meant healthier bodies, healthier lives and healthier relationships.
- Empowerment happened. There’s nothing like putting a seed in soil, watering it, and watching what amazing things come of it. Growing food can benefit you physically, mentally, and emotionally. The American public moved from being passive consumers of food to empowered producers of this vital commodity.
- Community developed. The gardens were started in backyards, but also in community plots and playgrounds. People, even those who didn’t see eye to eye with each other, weeded out their differences and figured out how to work together in a united effort. Neighbors pooled their resources, cooperation and connection deepened.
You can get it ready-made, cook it yourself, eat out, or have it delivered. It’s easy to get. Just stop byDeCicco or Lange's, both a few steps from the train on the way home, run to Shop Rite or try the new HMart and bring home incredible food sure to please even the pickiest of kids. It's like this in many parts of America.
But, despite the wide availability of food we have, Victory Gardens are making resurgence in America. The reasons for their renewed popularity isn’t from promotional posters or wartime scarcity. I think they’re back because of those other pluses, the ones about health improvements, emotional well-being, family values, and community.
It’s all good stuff to nurture. All stuff that benefits individuals, families, and communities, like our own. Heck, on a small scale, it even benefits America. Growing a Victory Garden was called being patriotic in 1917. I think it can still be called that in 2012.
I’ll attest to the value of a Victory type garden from my own experience. For the past three years I’ve been one of the adult helpers at the children’s garden at Greenville Community Church. It’s a small plot. It doesn’t even get full sun. But, our “Garden of Eat’in” is not about quantity, it’s about the shared multi-generational experience, learning together, and appreciating the wonderful world of nature.
It’s really cool to watch kids who earlier would gag on eating a vegetable, eagerly pop a sugar snap pea, skin and all, into their mouth and smile big. Or, proudly walk around carrying a basket of yellow tomatoes to share with others.
If you have a small piece of soil, or even just a simple container, you can produce a Victory Garden. And, don’t worry, it isn’t about quantity. Living here, you can still buy all the food you want in addition to what your garden produces.
You can start with one tomato plant. Or whatever your favorite vegetable is. Plant a fruit tree. Or raspberries. Create the garden with your kids. Talk about sharing one with your next door neighbor, or your faith community. Tend some herbs on a sunny windowsill. It might take fertilization of your resourcefulness to get started, but remember those who did it before, all the way back to WWI. They didn't know what they were doing. But they plowed ahead and did it anyway. And, it worked.
Why not grow your patriotism this July in a new way and start a Victory Garden?
It’ll be a win-win.