Monday, May 12, 2008

What can WE do?

Everyone wants to talk about the rising costs of food and fuel. We all have worries about the impact of these rising costs and the possibility of food shortages.

"Historians know that nations that cannot keep food supplies cheap, abundant and secure are in trouble. Food is national security. Food, fuel and the rise and fall of nations are inextricably linked. If the cost of fuel rises, the price of food will rise as well. That's the big picture." ~Rose Hayden-Smith
Amid cries of "Bring back the Victory Garden" and the news that according to the World Bank's food price index, our Global food prices have risen 57.5 per cent from a year ago, I have been reading the 1919 book, The War Garden Victorious by Charles Lathrop Pack.

It has been interesting and eye-opening to say the least. Pack was the founder of the National War Garden Commission which was formed in 1917. The express mission of the Commission was to develop latent resources of food supply and to that end to arouse the patriots of America to the importance of putting all idle land to work, to teach them how to do it, and to educate them to conserve by canning and drying all food they could not use while fresh. Thus began the War Gardens of WW1 and later known as Victory Gardens in WW2.

"Put the slacker land to work" became the slogan of the National War Garden Commission. In response the people in 1917 put to work more than 3,000,000 pieces of such uncultivated territory. In 1918, the total number of war gardens is conservatively estimated at 5,285,000. The food value was estimated at $525,000,000.

The huge PR campaign was promoted through leaflets, instructional pamphlets and posters. War gardeners were called on by the beautiful figure of Liberty to "Sow the Seeds of Victory." Another slogan, a clever paraphrase on the title of a famous song, told them to "Keep the Home Soil Turning." West Virginia started the message: "Food Must Follow the Flag," which became a household word throughout the United States. The Marion (Indiana) War Garden Association put to the home food producers in this fashion: "Earn the Right to stay at Home–Plant a Garden." The honored title of "Soldier of the Soil" gave the home tiller the feeling that he, too, was performing a service for his country although he was not wearing the uniform; and when he was informed that "Every Garden is a Munition Plant" he knew that he was helping the boys over there to fight their battles, for "The Seeds of Victory Insure the Fruits of Peace."

The patriotic spirit is contagious and the war gardener helped mightily to spread it.

The success record of the Victory Garden Project is well documented and it was not only the US Government that encouraged the participation of Americans but Big Business and the media as well.

The government and civilian groups such as the Red Cross and the Scouts organized committees to coordinate gardening efforts and allocate seeds, fertilizer and other resources. Gardening classes and literature were made available to the public. Because food production was critical, the literature emphasized getting the highest yield from each garden and the most nutrition from the crops by raising plants rich in proteins, vitamins and minerals.

The response was phenomenal. In 1917, Americans raised $520 million worth of garden produce in vacant lots, backyards, and unused land. Victory Gardens yielded as much as 40 percent of the country's nonmilitary produce. But the gardens did more than feed the civilian population. They gave people a chance to participate in the war effort and brought them together. People from all walks of life and every ethnicity and age group mingled in the many committees and the thousands of community gardens.

In Dallas, Texas there were around 20,000 war gardens in 1918. These citizens produced 17,500 cans of vegetables in just a few weeks from their garden plots. Temples, Texas had 5000 war gardens. In one growing season alone, the town produced an astounding quantity of black eye peas—one ton. The town of Marion, Indiana only had a population of about 29,000 people and it had 14,081 vegetable plots.

During World War II, a similar gardening movement swept the country. Most commonly these were known as Victory gardens. The White House lawn became a garden in which carrots, cabbages, and tomatoes were grown at the urging of First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt. As part of the war effort, the American government called on citizens to plant 18 million victory gardens. The response was overwhelming. Some 21 million were established, and actually produced around 40% of the country’s vegetables.

Things that amaze me most about this movement:

1. The extent of government involvement
2. The extent of big business involvement
3. The extent of media involvement

I doubt that we will see this kind of involvement today. However, We don't really need the government or big business to start a grassroots effort. And how much more grassroots can you get than planting a garden.

I want to focus on what WE can DO.

Plant a garden and have some control over the effect of rising prices both food and fuel on your family budget!

Bringing back the Victory Garden makes sense. It's low cost; seeds are inexpensive. I personally do not find the labor of a garden to be drudgery. It is a pleasure to get away from my desk and work the earth and enjoy the sunshine and to watch to literal fruits of my labor come to the table and feed my family. For every bit of produce that comes out of my garden, I save untold dollars at not only the grocery store but at the gas pump, in wear and tear on my car, and at the doctor's office. In addition, I get a share in saving the environment by leaving a smaller footprint and I get the empowerment that comes with taking some control in my life and becoming more resourceful and successful.

Think of the task of starting a garden as an creative adventure. The educational resources to make your garden venture a reality are plentiful...the internet offers abundant information sites, blogs and forums that focus on new and experienced gardeners. Don't forget the local library and garden club workshops. You will meet teachers and like-minded people at plant sales and garden shows. The Cooperative Extension Office in every county has a Master Gardener who you can call on the phone and ask questions! No outsourced customer service here!

The foods you grow are fresh and minimally processed and therefore will have a higher food value than any vegetable you can buy at the chain grocery store down the street! The flavor will amaze you.. it is hard to believe that it can make that much of a difference but the proof is definitely in the tasting. Let your garden be a protest against bland grocery store produce that is bred for its ability to be shipped long distances and to have a longer shelf-life. Most of our grocery store produce travels 1200 or more miles from field to our table! When you do buy produce, make sure that you get as much as possible from the local farmers market or locally suplied produce in your grocery store. I encourage you to start looking at WHERE your food comes from. Grapes from Mexico. Lettuce from California. Garlic from China! Let me tell you garlic is SO easy to grow.. I planted 250 cloves in October and will start harvesting in a month or so.. no work... just plant and mulch! And that garlic will last us through next winter.

Grow heirloom varieties whenever you can. They are hardy, of superior taste and novel appearance, they benefit the environment because planting them increases the genetic diversity. The focus on mono-culture crops and genetically modified foods has seriously limited crop variety. Heirloom varieties tend to be more naturally pest and drought resistant.

Your garden need not be big to make a difference. Consider a small strip of ground or a series of containers filled with tomatoes and peppers. For less than the price of a tomato you can buy a plant already started at the local garden center, ready to go in the dirt. Potatoes can be grown in plastic bags! There are many creative and productive ways to garden.

Gardening is an excellent way to increase food security (the amount and quality of food) in America. Access to Good Food should be a right, not a privilege.

In a changing world, the ability to grow food, to share and enjoy it, and to live in a healthy world full of beautiful gardens may be the best legacy we can our children and grandchildren. The human race will not know peace till each everyone one of us has access to healthy food, and clean air and water.

Join the movement. Here are a few resources to get you started:
books and history of victory gardens

The main points of Modern Victory Movement encourage people to:

1- Raise & preserve as much of their food as possible.
2- Conserve energy, fuel, freshwater & other natural resources.
3- Reduce personal consumption of all goods & resources.
4- Repair, reuse & recycle to as great an extent as possible.
5- Plant trees as part of reforestation projects & edible landscaping.
6- Improve soils through wise use, composting & vermiculture.

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