Rose Hayden-Smith • thevictorygrower.com

Home Gardens

Uncle Sam Says “Garden”

Uncle Sam says “Garden”.
We need to listen to Uncle Sam.
An entire chapter of my book, “Sowing the Seeds of Victory” is dedicated to WWI poster art and propaganda. Chapter Four contains numerous poster images and a detailed analysis of each. One of my favorite images is this one – Uncle Sam Says Garden”  – produced by the USDA.
“Uncle Sam Says Garden” was a poster that was directed to a broader audience than some of the other gardening posters, which were directed to children. Produced in 1917, it shows Uncle Sam in the foreground, holding a hoe in one hand, and papers that read “City Gardens” and “Farm Gardens” in the other. These words are clearly meant to synthesize the interests of rural and urban Americans: gardening was a shared activity, a common national goal. A man and woman work in the garden shown, which is in the shape of the American flag. Some of the plants featured in the garden might appear to be stars upon the flag. The woman in the poster wears a long, red skirt and a white shirt; in her arm is something she has harvested from the garden.

A subtitle suggests that Americans might wish to garden in order to “cut food costs.” Those seeing the poster are urged to write to the USDA for a free bulletin on gardening, suggesting, “It’s food for thought.” The poster is framed by brown band, and the bottom right corner features a cluster of richly hued vegetables. Upon careful inspection, the background, featuring trees, actually bears a striking resemblance to leafy green vegetables and also to broccoli stems. The use of Uncle Sam in gardening posters was not as common as […]

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 […]

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 […]

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 […]