Rose Hayden-Smith • thevictorygrower.com

Monthly Archives: August 2014

The Fruits of Victory: Some Stats

This week, I found the Fruits of Victory in the form of tomatoes in a plot at the St. Paul’s Episcopal Church congregational garden in Ventura, California.

I receive a lot of pushback against my gardening message. In the face of overwhelming world challenges, gardening as a response seems mundane. Some people argue they can’t garden because of their geography. (I refer them to literature that teaches how you can extend the growing season, no matter where you live). There are lots of reasons to say “no” to school, home and community gardening efforts, but so many other reasons to say “yes”.

A new national Victory Garden campaign could be successful. I base this argument on the success of previous models in World War I and World War II.

At the outset of World War II, it was estimated that approximately 14.5 million Americans gardened.There is no consensus on the percentage of Americans who engaged in Victory Garden activity during World War II (as in World War I, government efforts to conflate participation figures make it difficult to assess real gardening activity).

However, there is a remarkably consistent degree of agreement among historians that World War II saw a significant increase in the consumption of fruits and vegetables on the American home front, in part because vegetables were not among rationed foods. The internment of American citizens of Japanese descent—many of them vegetable farmers—had a real (and certainly) unintended effect on home front vegetable production early in the war.

Victory Gardens helped make up some of that production gap. Before the end of 1943, it is estimated that there were as many as twenty million gardens in America, possibly producing 40 percent of the nation’s annual consumption of vegetables.This […]

Lemony Snicket: doomed to repeat history?

“Those unable to catalog the past are doomed to repeat it.” Yes, I’m quoting Lemony Snicket, (from the “A Series of Unfortunate Events” books). In the case of school, home and community gardens, repeating history might not spell doom. In fact, it would be a good thing. Gardening may seem to be an ordinary topic, too mundane and unchanging to have an impact on history. In my book, “Sowing the Seeds of Victory”, I argue that on the American home front during World War I, the call to gardening was new and distinctive, elevated to high public importance. I also make the argument that I believe the same thing is becoming true again today, as a new generation of food activists attempts to change the food system via gardening, urban agriculture, and through a variety of other means.

The WWI Liberty/Victory Garden programs, food conservation and preservation efforts, and school garden programs invited the nation’s citizens to create (or re-create) gardens as a way to recapture an earlier “golden age” in American experience (a golden age that may or may not ever have existed).

The imagery was of republican self-sufficiency, mutuality, and civic contribution. Some of these impulses are reflected in today’s movement. In WWI, gardens were an integral part of American life as a location of national identification and purpose, of synthesis between competing spheres (urban and rural, domestic and public, consumer and producer, immigrant and native-born) during a period of national transition and transformation. Should gardens occupy the same location today? YES (minus the military stuff).

Gardens were also intended to be a place of redemption from any number of ills that plagued American social and cultural life. (They still are). Those who sought to […]

Stars and Stripes: WWI Gardens

The Stars and Stripes, America’s storied armed forces newspaper, made its debut in World War I. It began publication in February 1918, by order of General Pershing, leader of the American Expeditionary Force. It was published by the U.S. Army for its troops in France, printed in France, on borrowed presses, and distributed by trains, automobiles and motorcycles to American troops, also called “doughboys”. The WWI edition of The Stars and Stripes was published through June 13, 1919. As part of the research for my book, I scanned most of the seventy-one-week run of the WWI edition. It wasn’t easy: blurry Xerox copies and microfiche.

Now, though, as we enter the rolling centenary commemorations of this momentous war, this amazing resource is available online, through the Library of Congress. I encourage you to visit the site and learn more about the American experience during “The Great War.”

During WWI, American forces were distributed throughout the Western Front. American units were often combined with the forces of our European allies (including units of soldiers from Britain, France, and Italy). One goal of The Stars and Stripes was to provide a new, quickly mobilized and scattered army with a sense of common purpose and unity. Another goal was to provide information about what was occurring on the home front. A weekly publication, the newspaper’s eight-pages were packed with news from the home front. Nationally known journalists pitched in to help write pieces.  Per the Library of Congress, “At the peak of its production, The Stars and Stripes had a circulation of 526,000 readers.”

526,000 readers. And during the same year, America reportedly had 5,285,000 Liberty/Victory gardens.

The battlefront is the flip side of the home front, and I was not surprised to find […]

World War I: Ann Street School Garden

During World War I, students at the small Ann Street School in my community of Ventura, California, raised two tons of potatoes in their school garden. Their work, replicated in thousands of schools across the United States, had its roots in a broader national imperative that mobilized citizens of all ages to help boost wartime agricultural production and encourage consumption of local foods. While these national programs encouraging home, school, and community gardens reflected cultural, social, and political conditions specific to the World War I era, they established a public practice that has been revisited during war and other trying times. Today, they contribute to national sustainable food systems initiatives.

Ann Street Elementary was razed decades ago. The neighborhood school was rebuilt and is now called “Lincoln Elementary School.” The school has a garden, still, bordering on Ventura’s Main Street, visible to passersby as one enters the heart of the downtown community.

For more about the vital topic of school gardens – past and present – read my book, “Sowing the Seeds of Victory: American Gardening Programs of World War I.”

“A Garden for Everyone. Everyone in a Garden.”

Learn more: A WWI bibliography

With the centennial of World War I upon us, it’s a great time to learn more. In the process of writing a dissertation and a book, I’ve developed numerous thematic bibliographies that use WWI as a nexus to explore a wide range of topics. I have bibliographies consisting of both primary and secondary sources. The topics include agriculture/horticulture, urban development, professionalization in the sciences, food policy, woman’s work/suffrage, childhood, cultural life, the home front, memory, and visual culture.

My newly released book, “Sowing the Seeds of Victory: American Gardening Programs of World War I” touches on each of the above topics. It takes things a step further, by considering how the historical models of World War I could improve today’s broken food system.

I first studied literature at the University of California, Santa Barbara. Literature is one of the best ways to study history, and I always use literature of the time to frame my historical topics.  As a high school student, I fell in love with the work of World War I poets such as A.E. Housman and Wilfred Owen. It’s grim stuff, but lovely and thought-provoking.

With so much interest about World War I, a number of people have asked me to suggest some background reading on “The Great War.” I have resources for all ages (K-adult), but am focusing on adult readers for this blog. Not all of this is new, not all of it is “academic”, and I’ve not included journal articles that might require a paid subscription. Most of these books are available in public libraries (exception: Danbom’s) or through most booksellers, at least online.

Some suggested reading, AFTER you’ve read my book:

If you want to learn about American agriculture during this period, see […]

Amaryllis and Family Friendship: Reflections

This is a story of an amaryllis, some gardeners, and a family friendship that has spanned three generations. It is a story that affirms much of what I believe to be true about gardeners: they are hopeful, they are generous, and they connect across generations.

More than fifty years ago, a young couple named Dick and Ann Smith bought their first home in a quiet, leafy neighborhood in the San Fernando Valley. Dick was a former Stanford football player and a Korean War veteran. A journalist by trade, he found work at NBC Studios as a cameraman. Ann, a lab tech and East Coast transplant, stayed at home with Bill, their young son, who was soon joined by a string of siblings.

The neighbors across the street from the Smiths were an older couple, Bob and Lucille Ludlum; they welcomed the Smiths warmly. Bob and Lucille had a daughter, Joanne, a UCLA grad, who was married to a man named Ed Rossi. Ed and Joanne were the same age as Dick and Ann, and a fast and enduring friendship formed. The Rossi family lived in Reseda, but they and their three young sons were frequent visitors to the Ludlum’s home, conveniently located across from the Smith house, which eventually also had three boys, all near in age to the Rossi boys. The quiet, dead-end street erupted into a joyful jumble of children during those years. That is how my husband, Bill, met his lifelong best friend, Steve, and where the story of the amaryllis begins.

Lucille Ludlum was a gifted and dedicated gardener. One day, Lucille gave Ann Smith, my mother-in-law, an amaryllis cutting. It took off, and has flourished for years and years in Ann’s yard. […]

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