Rose Hayden-Smith •

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, faith, public policy and the use of social technologies. The past has the power to inform the present.

Weeding: Obstacle or Opportunity?

Weeding: Obstacle or Opportunity?

 Possibly the most distasteful task for gardeners is weeding. My UC ANR colleagues spend a good deal of time on the science of weed management, which represents a significant challenge for school, home and community gardeners (and for larger-scale agricultural producers). The UC ANR Master Gardener Program has excellent suggestions for school, home and community gardeners about how to reduce and manage weeds.

This growing season, I’ve taken a more philosophical approach to weeding. It’s all about falling in love with gardening, again, every time I work in one. You take the good stuff – vegetables and flowers – along with the weeds.

Most of my professional life has been spent in garden-based education: the practice of it, the teaching of it, and the history of it. When my daughter was younger, I spent six years as a garden volunteer for an elementary school. I moved on to working with middle schoolers, and have worked with high school students to plan and implement garden projects. I’ve also worked with community gardeners. My professional (and also a highly personal) mission has boiled down to this: “A Garden for Everyone. Everyone in a Garden.”

Recently, I’ve found great joy in helping my church begin a congregational gardening project. It’s a small and simple effort, but it has the wonderful feel and rhythm of summertime: longer days, a more leisurely pace, casual and unplanned meetings with new friends in the garden, and the feeling that there is more time to focus on tasks.

I live in an area where we are blessed with the ability to garden year round, but summer gardening has a particular feel to it that evokes wonder and memories of other summer gardens. (Cupping […]

Resiliency: Read the WRDC report (and my book)

Today I’m thinking about resiliency. It’s hot in California, fires are burning in my parched community, and newspaper headlines tell me the ice pack is melting faster than anticipated. We are living in times of great uncertainty, change and challenges.

100 years ago our nation and the world were also entering a period of great uncertainly and rapid change as World War 1 forever altered the political, cultural, social and even physical landscapes of nations across the globe.

I’ve written extensively about WWI, and the centennial of the Smith-Lever Act, which created America’s Cooperative Extension Service (CE). CE – commonly called “Extension” or “Agricultural Extension” – has had enormous impacts on American agriculture and in American communities during the last 100 years. If you’ve ever participated in 4-H, worked with a Master Gardener, or been involved with agriculture, you’ve worked with CE. CE was just starting 100 years ago, but the organization helped Americans of all ages and stripes to produce and conserve more food on the home front during WWI, thus enabling the nation to ship more food abroad to our allies

One of the biggest challenges facing all of us right now is sustainability. The term means different things to different people, and is difficult to unpack and understand. I think a better way to frame this might be to consider “resiliency”, i.e., building capacity to respond and adapt to the myriad challenges facing us. To learn more about the thinking in Extension circles about sustainability/resiliency in relation to food, energy, air, water and land, please read this report, produced by the Western Rural Development Center. It’s truly excellent, you’ll learn a great deal, and it’s FREE.

Full disclosure: I wrote the thought piece on sustainable […]

By |May 14th, 2014|Categories: school gardens||0 Comments

“A hungry man is not a free man”

Adlai Stevenson once said: “A hungry man is not a free man.”

As a Victory Grower, I am not only concerned about growing things in my own garden, but about the dynamics of the larger food system(s) in which I participate. I am particularly concerned about hunger, which I believe is one of the most pressing moral issues of our time, and also one of the most vital national security challenges we face.  The federal government once used the term “nutritional defense”.

Hunger in America is complex. It reflects many societal and policy issues, including stagnant wages, a lack of affordable housing, workforce trends influenced by globalization, and other ineffective public policies. Hunger is a highly political issue. In fact, be on the watch in the next few days for more widespread labor actions among low-wage food workers. Ironically, many of those who help produce, prepare, serve and sell us food are at risk for hunger.

I discuss hunger (see also food insecurity, food security) throughout my book, and I have some public policy recommendations that I think are important.

You can help some this weekend, by participating in the U.S. Postal Service’s annual food drive. Simply leave food items by your mail box for your mail carrier to collect.  To my knowledge, the USPS doesn’t have the ability to handle fresh produce donations from the garden, but shelf-stable food items are most welcome.

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

By |May 9th, 2014|Categories: public policy||0 Comments

Celebrate! Smith-Lever/Cooperative Extension is 100!

Thursday, May 8th 2014 is the centennial of the Smith-Lever Act, which you can read more about by clicking here. The legislation created the Cooperative Extension (CE) Service; it was signed by Woodrow Wilson on the same day he signed the legislation creating Mother’s Day. You may know Cooperative Extension today and not even be aware of it: 4-H, Master Gardener and Master Food Preserver programs, university researchers working with farmers on agricultural issues, natural resource management…that’s CE.

You can read all about this and more – including what’s up with Cooperative Extension today, 100 years after its creation – in my book, “Sowing the Seeds of Victory: American Gardening Programs of World War 1.”

1914 was a momentous year. The Panama Canal opened. Ford Motor Company established an 8-hour workday and increased wages. The National Guard fired upon striking miners in Colorado. Racial tensions ran high, as did tensions between rural and urban populations. U.S. naval forces landed and occupied Veracruz, Mexico, bringing the two countries to the brink of war. By August, World War I had started, and U.S. agricultural products were sorely needed to feed and support our allies. Efficient agriculture backed by scientific solutions became a national priority.

To celebrate Smith-Lever’s Centennial, join the University of California, Agriculture and Natural Resources on May 8th and “Be a Scientist.” Join thousands of others entering observations about pollinators, where food is grown in their communities, and water conservation efforts. Be a part of history!

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

By |May 7th, 2014|Categories: History||0 Comments

China’s Farmland Crisis: 1/5th Polluted

A recent report produced by the Chinese government indicates that nearly 1/5th of that nation’s farmland is polluted.

This is astounding, troubling and heartbreaking. It has enormous implications for the global food supply and myriad ecosystems. It impacts each of us – even if we don’t live in China – because food and environment are global issues.

The environmental degradation in China and how it affects food production there, in the end, is owned by all of us, because our life together on this planet transcends national interests. We are inextricably linked by our mutual reliance on a thin crust of earth – soil – to sustain all human life. Lack of sustainability in one part of the globe impacts the sustainability of the entire system.

Please read my book, “Sowing the Seeds of Victory: American Gardening Programs of World War I” for some contemporary observations about American food policy vis-à-vis China. You’ll find I don’t like some of it, and I’ll provide reasons why I believe it’s not sound food policy.  The book may surprise you: it is not only about WWI food policies, but also has a great deal of information about current food policies and ways we might improve them.

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




By |May 6th, 2014|Categories: public policy||0 Comments

Sowing the Seeds of Victory: The book is out!

My new book, “Sowing the Seeds of Victory: American Gardening Programs of World War 1″, is available. In it you’ll find not only the fascinating history of the iconic Victory Garden programs of WWI and WWII, but specific public policy recommendations that could help us transform today’s food system.

“On a foundation of good food we can build anything. Without it we can build nothing.”

Henry Aagard Wallace, Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s Vice President, shared these words with the American public at the outset of World War II. Wallace had previously served as the USDA Secretary, and was a primary architect of the restructuring of the modern American food system during the Great Depression. Wallace knew the importance of food – and what the U.S. government termed “nutritional defense” to national security.

These words are relevant today. Childhood nutrition remains one of the most persistent challenges we face in this nation, and is inextricably linked with issues of morality, national security, and the social and economic well-being of our nation’s future.

Read my book to learn how we can transform our nation’s food system, one garden, one community, one Victory Grower at a time.



By |May 4th, 2014|Categories: school gardens||0 Comments

The History of School Gardens: Part 2

School gardens were used in parts of Europe as early as 1811, and mention of their value precedes that by nearly two centuries. Philosophers and educational reformers such as John Amos Comenius and Jean-Jacques Rousseau discussed the importance of nature in the education of children; Comenius mentioned gardens specifically. The use and purpose of school gardens was multifold; gardens provided a place where youth could learn natural sciences (including agriculture) and also acquire vocational skills. Indeed, the very multiplicity of uses and purposes for gardens made it difficult for gardening proponents to firmly anchor gardening in the educational framework and a school’s curriculum; it still does.

School gardens have been around for a long time, and their history matters today. The founder of the kindergarten movement, Friedrich Froebel, used gardens as an educational tool. Froebel was influenced by Swiss educational reformer Johann Pestalozzi, who saw a need for balance in education, a balance that incorporated “hands, heart, and head,” words and ideas that would be incorporated nearly two centuries later into the mission of the United States Department of Agriculture’s 4-H youth development program.  Gardens required all three of these things; for this and other reasons, Froebel advocated for school gardens during the course of his life.

Late 19th century educators such as Maria Montessori and John Dewey built upon educational theories espoused by these earlier philosophers and reformers and extended them. Both Montessori and Dewey spoke specifically about gardening and agricultural education for youth.  They both saw the acquisition of practical (i.e., vocational) skills as only part of the value of gardening experiences.

In both World War I and II, the United States also sought to encourage youth to express their love of country and commitment […]

The History of School Gardens: Part 1

Over the next several days, I’ll provide a brief sketch of the history of school gardens in the United States. The history of school gardens is rich, so I’m breaking it down into several pieces. I’ll also be providing some interplay with contemporary efforts involving school gardens, including today’s Food Corps program.

(Note to reader: my book, “Sowing the Seeds of Victory: American Gardening Programs of World War I” provides a more definitive history of school gardens. Reading this – and subsequent – posts is the equivalent of nibbling a tiny piece of crust, rather than eating a piece of pie. The book is the entire pie. And we all love pie!).

As I nearly always do, I’ll begin my history lesson close to home: in my community of Ventura, California. It’s interesting how an historian of school gardens came to live in a community that has valued them so highly…for well over a century.

Here we go…

In 1909, Ventura, California schoolteacher Zilda M. Rogers wrote to the Agricultural Experiment Station at the University of California, Berkeley, then the flagship agricultural campus for California’s land grant institution, and a primary proponent and provider of garden education resources for schoolteachers. Rogers wrote in some detail about how her school garden work had progressed, what the successes and failures were, how the children were responding to the opportunity to garden, how her relationship with the children had changed as a result of the garden work and what she saw as potential for the future. “With the love of the school garden has grown the desire for a home garden and some of their plots at home are very good…Since commencing the garden work the children have become better companions and […]

By |April 23rd, 2014|Categories: school gardens||0 Comments

The Victory Garden: A Brief History from the Victory Grower

I collect gardening catalogs.  To me, they represent life and productivity and the promise of family, good food and good health. BUT…

I also study and write about Victory Gardens. Because Victory Gardens, like gardening catalogs, also provide a link to a simpler, agrarian past that I find comforting and restorative in these unsettling times.  In a world where food prices are skyrocketing, violence seems unchecked, compassion towards the less fortunate seems to have evaporated and economic misery abounds, I find gardens of all sorts a refuge of optimism.  We need fewer bad things in this world and more good gardens. In hard times, Americans have always turned to gardening.  The Victory Gardens of World War I and World War II – and the garden efforts of the Great Depression – helped Americans weather hard times. These school, home and community gardens helped the family budget; improved dietary practices; reduced the food mile and saved fuel. They also enabled America to export more food to our allies; beautified communities; empowered every citizen to contribute to a national effort; and bridged social, ethnic, class and cultural differences during times when cooperation was vital. Gardens were an expression of solidarity, patriotism, and shared sacrifice.  They were everywhere…schools, homes, workplaces, and throughout public spaces all over the nation. No effort was too small. Americans did their bit. And it mattered.  We were a nation of Victory Growers, and it had far-ranging implications in many aspects of American social, cultural and political life. (And all of these things could be true again today. In many places, Victory Growers are at work, making these things come true). Consider this: In WWI, the Federal Bureau of Education rolled out a […]

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By |April 22nd, 2014|Categories: school gardens||0 Comments