Rose Hayden-Smith • thevictorygrower.com

History

Red, White and Grew: Guest Blog

I’m delighted to be included as a guest blogger on the Red, White & Grew site, which is hosted by the amazing Pamela Price.

Pam is a journalist, author, and homeschool mom (and oh, so much more!). She is a self-termed “Victory Garden fangirl, vintage junkie, homeschooler, educator, caregiver, cook, Native Texan and current San Antonio resident, micro-memoirist, history geek, parent to a peanut-allergic child, gifted program reject, PBS supporter, Sherlock fan and Graves’ disease patient.” You’ll want to head over to her site right now and sign up to receive regular notifications.

Pam and I happened upon one another in 2008. Both of us were focused on gardening as a means to increase food security, and we used emerging social technologies to join the online movement advocating for a White House Garden. Meeting Pam has been one of the most professionally fortuitous and personally satisfying events in my adult life. We keep reconnecting in new and exciting ways, and she engages a large and deep network of amazing individuals. Pam’s work keeps evolving and unfolding into new areas of inquiry and expertise.  She is, quite simply, a polymath.

Thank you, Pam, for including my work on your site.

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

 

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 […]

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 […]

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.”

The War to End All Wars: Part 2

In a previous blog posting, I talked a little about “The War to End All Wars” – specifically, the centennial day of the beginning of World War I – “The Great War” – which I mark as a somber occasion.

Today, I’m sharing a little more about why the American government placed such a priority on creating a national Liberty/Victory Garden program during World War I. The fears about food security/access were real.

The pace of global change during World War I was stunning. Within a single six-week period, the centuries-old Romanov Empire in Russia collapsed and America entered the war and began mobilizing millions of men to fight on foreign soil. This mass mobilization of Americans for foreign combat was unprecedented. A bias rooted in America’s colonial experience with an occupying British Army had kept America from maintaining a strong, centralized military, and the nation scrambled to respond to its new wartime footing.

In World War I, the industrial and economic might of nations turned toward the prosecution of total war. Technological “advancements” com- pounded the horror and misery. World War I brought the widespread use of machine guns (capable of firing up to six-hundred rounds per minute, with deadly results), the introduction of chemical warfare (chlorine and mustard gas), aerial warfare, flamethrowers, and the tank (which, in fact, proved of limited use in World War I). Unterseebooten (U-boats) prowled the seas. Barbed wire, more commonly used in agricultural settings, was used with deadly effect on the battlefield. The war created an international arms race, with the goal to inflict as many casualties as possible.

An important part of the new wartime footing for America was to address concerns about the nation’s food system. With the ability […]

The War to End All Wars: Part 1

Today, July 28th, 2014, is a sad centennial; it marks the day that World War I –  “The War to End All Wars” – began.

Many of know me primarily for my work in sustainable food systems, and as a garden-based educator who is passionate about Liberty and Victory Gardens (past and present). In fact, however, I am a U.S. historian whose work focuses on the American home front during World War I. I am a World War I historian. I expect to be very busy during the next five years, educating people about the worldwide conflict that is essential to understanding so many of the things that have happened in the world since.

I’ve always studied wars.  My first passion as a young historian – beginning at about age 9 – was the American Civil War. I was the only elementary-aged student in my school who had a subscription to “Civil War Times” magazine, whose family took her to visit Civil War battlefields in the South, who read Bruce Catton. In junior high and high school, I shifted my area of study to World War II, and later on to Vietnam (shaped strongly by my childhood experiences watching the war on TV and living on a military base during part of that conflict), and later still, to study around the Revolutionary War.  My greatest interest has been the impact of wars on the home front (cultural and social issues, and comparative analysis of home front experiences).

The topic of Victory Gardens during World War I really piqued my interest, because they represented hope and creation during a time of unprecedented destruction.

Some people object to the term “Victory Gardens” for contemporary use because of its historical association […]

Photo: NYC WWI Liberty Garden

This hand-colored photograph shows a WWI Liberty Garden in New York City’s Bryant Park (42nd Street and Fifth Avenue).  The Liberty Garden effort – these gardens soon came to be called “Victory Gardens” –  was led by the National War Garden Commission (NWGC) in partnership with the federal government and other organizations.

Demonstration gardens such as the one in Bryant Park were vital to spreading the gardening gospel. These gardens served as a point of inspiration, a place for teaching and community-building, and ultimately, as a tool to help mobilize the nation to home front food production. You can learn more about Liberty Gardens and the work of the NWGC in my book, “Sowing the Seeds of Victory.”

The garden depicted is in this image shows an oasis surrounded by high-rise buildings. Who says urban agriculture is new? It also features an advertisement for Chesterfield cigarettes.  The Victory Grower recommends taking up the gardening habit, but doesn’t encourage smoking cigarettes!

Photographer: Frances Benjamin Johnston (1864-1952); image available from the Library of Congress.

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

WW1 gardens, democracy and immigration

WWI gardens, democracy and immigration are strongly linked. A major home front goal of the U.S. government during WWI was to secure and mobilize the support of the nation’s sizeable immigrant population. The iconic posters calling the nation to service were printed in many languages, an acknowledgement of a basic fact in American life: we have inherently been a pluralistic society, even if that fact is not always reflected in our political leadership. Gardening proved to be an important and successful way to unify America’s diverse population during WWI; gardening provides a way for us to transcend our differences today.

Whoever we are, wherever we hail from, however we choose to classify ourselves, our relationship to the land links us. Even when we don’t have direct contact with it, land sustains us. Those who worked on national gardening efforts during World War I understood the connection between rural and urban. They envisioned a “nation of garden cities” … and all that the term promised. Beautiful, vibrant, healthy cities. Abundant and prosperous rural landscapes. Sustainable areas between, foreshadowing the emergence of the great American “middlescape”…the suburb. 

After the Armistice was signed in 1919, one national leader expressed his feeling that the war gardening effort was “a forge that is daily strengthening the links in our chain of democracy…Link by link the chain of our democracy has grown stronger.”

Can the act of gardening really strengthen democracy? I think the answer is “yes.” Read more in “Sowing the Seeds of Victory” here.

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