Rose Hayden-Smith • thevictorygrower.com

Victory Gardens

The past could hold keys to a new national food policy

The past could hold keys to a new national food policy. I would encourage policy makers and influencers to search our nation’s past for historical precedents that could help some of these ideas gain traction. They exist.

And there are some things we could do immediately that would facilitate positive transformation in the food system. Many of these recommendations are based in historical practice. These are teachable moments in our nation’s history, but also actionable moments.

1. Capitalize on the phenomenal interest in gardening. Support a gardening ethos at all levels, incorporating policy, practice and demonstrating personal value.

To paraphrase Gandhi, be the change you want to see in the food system. Grow something for yourself. Grow something for your community. Move your backyard garden and make it a front yard garden. Claim an unused space in your community and grow it. Share your gardening skills with youth in your community, at a school or an after-school program, or through a church youth group. Volunteer to grow container vegetables at a senior facility. Scale up to the community level – and the state and then national level – much like the Victory Garden programs of WWI and WWII.

2. Preserve what is grown. Reduce food waste.

We should also focus on food conservation and preservation…and on reducing food waste. The amount of food waste in our nation is staggering; simply reducing that could help address at least part of the nation’s hunger issue. WWI and WWII models of food conservation and preservation programs provide a clear road map on how to accomplish this task. The Cooperative Extension Service is seeing growing interest in its Master Food Preserver Program, which equips volunteers to train others in communities on food preservation […]

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.”

 

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 […]

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 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 […]