Rose Hayden-Smith • thevictorygrower.com

WWI

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 […]

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 […]

In Memoriam: Nova Brown

“Nova died today.”

This was the text I received from my daughter yesterday afternoon, as she sat in her dorm room in Oregon, and as I was sitting down to dinner with my colleagues in Davis.

My first feelings: utter disbelief and shock. The next emotion: ineffable sadness.

I write about Victory Gardens, about World War I, about food policy. Today, I am writing about Nova Brown. I first met Nova Brown at Cabrillo Middle School, where he frequently came to watch Holly play basketball. Holly was a teammate of Natalie’s; Nova and Holly were never far apart. Nova was a fine young man. He was bright, creative, and pursued his dreams (including Formula One racing) with a passion and courage and focus and dedication not often seen. He was willing to be different, and to carve a unique path for himself. He was also a good friend. He was fun. He offered love, and was much loved in return. Nova lived for larger things. He was aspirational.

Nova died while driving his motorcycle on Foothill Road in Ventura. He was involved in an accident with a car making a left turn. All the details are not fully known to us yet. I feel acutely for the driver, an elderly woman, and have added her (along with Nova’s family and friends) to my prayers.

If you live in Ventura, you know that Foothill Road is the muse that beckons us. It traverses the rim of the city from its east end, turning into Poli Street as it drops down into the heart of the community. Foothill is a rural road in some respects: there are still some significant producing orchards and undeveloped hillsides interspersed between neighborhoods, and places where […]

By |September 4th, 2014|Categories: Other|Tags: , , |2 Comments

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 […]

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.”

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.”

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.”

WWI Poster: Uncle Sam and a Farmerette

Uncle Sam invited all Americans to garden in World War I; nearly 20,000 American women answered a call to service and picked up a hoe. Many of these “farmerettes”, as they were called, used their work on America’s farms to press for full citizenship, including suffrage.

To learn more about this interesting chapter in America’s history, please read Chapter 6 of “Sowing the Seeds of Victory”. With so much focus on WWI now, this is a book you won’t want to miss.

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

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.”

DDay and Victory Gardens

Victory Gardens mattered in WWI and WWII. The home front and the battlefront represent opposite sides of the same coin; cause and effect come into play. Military needs dictated home front mobilization, and what occurred on the home front affected what could be executed on the battlefront.

As Allied troops stormed the beaches of Normandy on #DDay, those on the home front gardened. 

I like this picture, borrowed from the Library of Congress, and taken by photographer Edward Meyer. I think this picture speaks to me because the boy depicted in it is about the same age my father was, when his family worked a small Victory Garden at their home in Terrell, Texas. Terrell was the location of a quickly constructed military base where British and American pilots were trained. My grandfather worked there as part of the American war effort. My father remembered his family’s Victory Garden, and the small black dog that was his boon companion.

Honoring their service, and the memories of gardens past.

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

By |June 6th, 2014|Categories: Other|Tags: , , , , |0 Comments