Victory gardens first became “a thing” back in World War I and II. The name evoked the struggles occurring “over there,” and what people back home could do to aid in that conflict. One of my earliest memories is of a poster that my uncle, a WWI historian, had hanging in his dining room. It showed an enormous basket overflowing with produce, boldly stating “Food IS Ammunition.” Something like 8 millions tons of food was produced by victory gardeners, by some estimates 41% of the vegetables consumed at the time.
Eventually, victory gardens fell out of fashion, and growing your own food was a sign of poverty rather than patriotism. Then in the 1980s, WGBH Boston ran a series called Crockett’s Victory Garden. This along with the Joy of Painting (“happy little trees!”), was a Saturday afternoon staple of my childhood. Mr. Crockett led viewers through the basics of growing all sorts of vegetables and fruit at home. It was a great introduction to gardening, and I still frequently refer to his planting timelines in my very dog-eared copy of his companion book.
Unfortunately, Mr. Crockett’s methods were less than organic. He advocated the use of 5-10-5 fertilizers, as well as excessive soil augmentation with peat moss. Compost was mentioned for sure, but not in the amounts that most organic gardeners today would recommend. Our understanding of soil biology and species interdependence has increased greatly over the past 30 years, casting a very different light on what used to be time honored practices.
Still, I think Mr. Crockett’s message of growing your own food not only for survival, but for pleasure was an important one. I know in raising my own son, I very much want him to understand where his food comes from–both animal and vegetable. To this end, we help raise chickens as well as encourage Hufflespawn to work with me in the community garden. The child who will not eat tomatoes in a restaurant has no problem plucking them off the vine and munching on them while we’re out in the garden. It’s one more example of how the food that we get from the supermarket is so inferior to what we can grow ourselves.
Now we find ourselves in another era where gardening is becoming not just a hobby, but a necessity. With rising food costs, many people find that being able to provide one’s own vegetables can greatly decrease grocery bills. In addition it reconnects us with the land in a vitally important way. I’m not a big fan of declaring war on anything (look where the wars on drugs and poverty have gotten us), but seeking victory in the realms of nutrition, self-sufficiency, and land-connection is surely a worthy goal for its own sake. And I do think it’s possible to declare a victory without ever declaring a war.
Long live the Victory Garden!