Rose Hayden-Smith • thevictorygrower.com

Rose Hayden-Smith

About Rose Hayden-Smith

I'm an author/academic who believes that gardens can transform the world. Call me a Victory Grower. Location: intersection of gardens, agriculture, food systems, sustainability, history, public policy and the use of social technologies. The past has the power to inform the present.

PopUpMag: Starline Event

@victorygrower: Past/present/local/global, all connected through a narrative of food and gifted artists/ans. A menu for the body, mind, soul. Thx @PopUpMag

(Longer than most of my blogs. It was a significant experience. Clear your plate and read the entire thing).

Recently, I walked up a flight of old, uneven wooden stairs to the Starline Social Club in Oakland. Built in 1893, the Starline has served as an Oddfellows Hall, a gathering place for the Deaf community, and a janitorial supply business. This gem of a building is finding new life for what some term “the creative economy” in Oakland, and the Pop-Up Magazine event I participated in there was indeed creative, generative, and an exercise in experiencing community around a particular topic.

I have never attended a Pop-Up Magazine event before. The concept is – well – brilliant. It is a live magazine. Contributors are varied, and include artists, filmmakers, writers, musicians and other kinds of creative folks. The “issue” of the “magazine” never appears in print, nor is it recorded. The model is resonating with audiences; the events are selling out in sometimes as few as five minutes. I get it: I could engage with those who created the “content”. It is storytelling at its best: as a way to spark conversation. It was dynamic, it was creative, it generated authentic discussion and I was hooked from the start.

The Starline event was Pop-Up Magazine’s first foray into a dinner setting – the focus of this “issue” of the “magazine” was food. My first thought was “salon” (in the French sense). Being both an historian and a food advocate, I could smell wisps of memories in the historic venue…as well as an incredibly creative, mouth-watering and perfectly […]

Testimonial: the value of a school garden

This is a real testimonial about the value of a school garden. You can’t make this stuff up. Here’s an email I received today from a teacher at a school where our University of California Cooperative Extension team installed garden beds this last school year. I have made minimal edits to the email to protect the privacy of the students, but the location of the program is the Middle School Opportunity Program at Foothill Technology High School in Ventura Unified School District. (This is an innovative and targeted program at one of the nation’s highest achieving public high schools. Foothill was just ranked by Newsweek magazine in its top 100 public high schools, as #77 among all high schools, and #54 nationwide at effectiveness in serving low-income students).

At the end of a challenging day, I found this in my inbox:

“Our garden continues to thrive!  My students love it.  They run over to it first thing each morning to check the progress of their plants.  Right now we have the last of our tomatoes, the last of the strawberries, bell peppers, snacking peppers, cucumber vines that are flowering,  pumpkin vines (we planted those late), radishes, cilantro, chives, corn, and broccoli (something is eating the leaves.  Ideas?).  I am teaching plant science and it has been so wonderful to use our garden plants for examples.  It makes the lessons so much richer.

The kids have asked me if we can install two more planter boxes.  I told them I would check with you to see if you have more.  If not, we will make them ourselves.

Again, thanks so much for getting us started last year.  The addition of our garden has made our program more enjoyable for […]

Heirlooms and Civic Agriculture

Heirlooms and civic agriculture.

What does this even mean?

“Heirloom” is an interesting term, and like the word “sustainability”, it means different things to different people.  A couple of years ago, I read The Heirloom Life Gardener, a book written by Jere and Emilee Gettle.  The Gettles are the co-founders of the Baker Creek Heirloom Seed Company, which publishes a lush and incredibly informative seed catalog and has spun off a variety of gardening-related enterprises across the nation.  The Gettles’ define heirloom seeds as being “non-hybrid and open-pollinated” and as usually having been in circulation for more than fifty years.  Some heirloom seed types currently in use could have been found in Thomas Jefferson garden at Monticello.  Some appear more recently, during the Great Depression, including the Mortgage Lifter tomato (who couldn’t use one of these in today’s economy?).

While reading the Gettles’ book, I began thinking once again about the relationship between land and the American character.  I was inspired to pull some of my favorite books off the shelf and revisit them, to consider the notion of “civic agriculture.”

The term “civic agriculture” – coined by the former Thomas Lyson of Cornell – is used by some to refer to the movement towards locally based agricultural models that tightly link community, social and economic development.  Models of civic agriculture include CSAs, farmer’s markets, roadside stands, urban agriculture, community gardens, and farm-to-school/farm-to-institution programs.  I also argue that civic agriculture includes school and home gardens…any place where people seek to connect land to the development of community or as an expression of engagement or citizenship. You can read more about all of this in my book, “Sowing the Seeds of Victory.”

The civic aspect of agriculture is much older than […]

Kitchen Table Memories

A few years ago, a friend asked several of us to jot down memories about the kitchen tables in our lives. The operating premise of the exercise was that food is central to our relationships, and that much of life occurs around the places where we eat, and those we choose to eat with.

My kitchen table memories are varied. My family moved quite frequently when I was young: our kitchen table was a sort of “movable feast.” In my faith tradition, this term has a very specific meaning that informs my attitudes toward food. (For the very literary minded, it is also the title of a wonderful memoir written by Ernest Hemingway late in his life).

I have wonderful memories about kitchen tables. In our home near Philadelphia, I remember my older sister sitting at the table in the spacious kitchen, trying to cajole me to eat more before we went to church. I was served the best pancakes I’ve ever eaten at that very table. It was at this table where my brother once committed the serious transgression of launching scrambled eggs at my sister, using his fork as the springboard. (This happened exactly once.) A few years later, in the San Fernando Valley, close by some citrus orchards where the California State University campus now stands, I recall eating wonderful meals at our new home, which featured a formal dining room, where my parents proudly used the plastic fruit I’d bought them as a gift as the table’s centerpiece.

I remember my Grandmother Eloise’s elegantly appointed dining room table in Clinton, Mississippi, where we always drank heavily sugared iced tea from the tallest glasses I’d ever seen, being certain to clink the ice with […]

In Memoriam: Nova Brown

“Nova died today.”

This was the text I received from my daughter yesterday afternoon, as she sat in her dorm room in Oregon, and as I was sitting down to dinner with my colleagues in Davis.

My first feelings: utter disbelief and shock. The next emotion: ineffable sadness.

I write about Victory Gardens, about World War I, about food policy. Today, I am writing about Nova Brown. I first met Nova Brown at Cabrillo Middle School, where he frequently came to watch Holly play basketball. Holly was a teammate of Natalie’s; Nova and Holly were never far apart. Nova was a fine young man. He was bright, creative, and pursued his dreams (including Formula One racing) with a passion and courage and focus and dedication not often seen. He was willing to be different, and to carve a unique path for himself. He was also a good friend. He was fun. He offered love, and was much loved in return. Nova lived for larger things. He was aspirational.

Nova died while driving his motorcycle on Foothill Road in Ventura. He was involved in an accident with a car making a left turn. All the details are not fully known to us yet. I feel acutely for the driver, an elderly woman, and have added her (along with Nova’s family and friends) to my prayers.

If you live in Ventura, you know that Foothill Road is the muse that beckons us. It traverses the rim of the city from its east end, turning into Poli Street as it drops down into the heart of the community. Foothill is a rural road in some respects: there are still some significant producing orchards and undeveloped hillsides interspersed between neighborhoods, and places where […]

By |September 4th, 2014|Categories: Other|Tags: , , |2 Comments

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 […]