Rose Hayden-Smith • thevictorygrower.com

food

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 […]

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 […]

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 […]

Local food: an old idea made new again

Local food is an old idea made new again. Buying #localfood is the new old-fashioned thing to do. Check out this abbreviated version of a World War I poster. Buying local food was a governmental recommendation as early as WWI.  Read more about #WWI posters and their impact on mobilizing the home front in Chapter 4 of my book, “Sowing the Seeds of Victory”.

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

Lincoln: The ability to produce food = freedom

When he was stumping for the office of president in 1859, Abraham Lincoln equated the ability of Americans to produce food with freedom.

Lincoln said this:

“And thorough work, again, renders sufficient, the smallest quantity of ground to each man. And this again, conforms to what must occur in a world less inclined to wars, and more devoted to the arts of peace, than heretofore. Population must increase rapidly — more rapidly than in former times — and ere long the most valuable of all arts, will be the art of deriving a comfortable subsistence from the smallest area of soil. No community whose every member possesses this art, can ever be the victim of oppression of any of its forms. Such community will be alike independent of crowned-kings, money-kings, and land-kings.”

This is pretty heady stuff, radical even, a strongly pluralistic message about land. While Lincoln’s feeling that the nation might be more devoted to peace hasn’t exactly panned out, I think the rest still resonates. I read it to mean that as long as every American knows how to cultivate land, we will be free from oppression. Oppression from all sorts of kings, but perhaps also free from the oppression presented by hunger, obesity, and lack of community engagement. Knowing how to cultivate land is an essential ingredient of independence (on all sorts of levels). It is an art. It is a science. It is essential to survival. When I read these words more than 150 years after they were spoken, the clarity and strength and truth of them compels me to state again:

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

And if you haven’t snagged a copy, please do go to the McFarland website, order […]