Rose Hayden-Smith • thevictorygrower.com

food preservation

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 […]

The Pennsylvania School of Horticulture for Women

Nearly a decade prior to America’s entry into World War I, the Pennsylvania School of Horticulture for Women opened its doors. Its beginning was inauspicious. However, it led to one of the most interesting chapters of World War I: women’s quest for suffrage and opportunities to serve during the war via the creation of a Woman’s Land Army of America.

Women were vital to the success of wartime food programs – including the Liberty/Victory Garden effort – because they controlled and managed home food purchases and most food preparation (i.e., the household economy). During World War I, women’s magazines were replete with articles about gardening and food preservation. Women had also long been involved in reform efforts that influenced later wartime gardening work, including civic beautification, school gardens, working with immigrant populations, and tackling issues related to poverty (for example, Hull House).

Women used their work in gardening and horticulture to press for suffrage and fuller participation in the nation’s cultural and political life during World War I.  One expression of this was the Woman’s Land Army of America (WLAA) – which “enlisted” nearly 20,000 women (many of them urban and suburban college coeds) – to help on the farm front. The “farmerettes” as they were called, provided vital farm labor “over here” as men were mobilized to fighting “over there”.

The Woman’s Land Army would never have come into existence without a previous effort: an obscure horticultural school for women in Philadelphia that served as a catalyst for the creation of the Woman’s Land Army. Humble in its beginning, the Pennsylvania School of Horticulture for Women proved to be of national importance in subsequent years.

The founders of the Pennsylvania School of Horticulture for Women held this […]

The Fruits of Victory: Food Preservation

“The Fruits of Victory” was a World War I poster that encouraged Americans to adopt food preservation practices. The national message that focused on school, home and community gardens as well as food preservation and food conservation resulted in increased exports to America’s allies during wartime, and also in improved nutrition. Liberty Gardens – later Victory Gardens – became a national imperative.

The practices encouraged by the federal government during World War I were simple but effective: increase local food production, preserve some of what we grew, and also to try to reduce food consumption (consider Meatless Mondays). These measures worked.  And they make sense today.

Undoubtedly, some of you reading this post will be spending part of the long weekend putting up fruit and vegetables. It’s a good thing to do. To encourage you in your efforts, enjoy this WWI image. And pick up a copy of my book, “Sowing the Seeds of Victory”, to learn more about what was done then – and what we could do now, as individuals and a nation – to improve our food system.

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