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Guest Post: Sow For Victory

Today it is my great pleasure to introduce one of my great real life friends, Meredith. Aside from her talent with ceramics, her sense of humor, and her incredible head of Ginger hair (like super magically incredible), Meredith is also an advocate for growing your own food and living off your own land. This is something that was highly encouraged during WWII, and I really admire people who are environmentally responsible in this way today. I can’t wait to have a Victory Garden of my own soon!

Okay, so pull up a chair and get ready for a good sit down because Meredith has A LOT of amazing information to share with you about Victory Gardens, both modern and historical, and their impact on ourselves and our neighbors. Enjoy!

 

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Sow for Victory

Let’s take a little field trip back to 1943.   Go ahead and hop in those time machines!  We’re going to explore the day and age when the world was at war and our food supply was in peril.

American Life in 1943
Think about this: the average family in 1943 was living on $29.00 a week.  Food staples were rationed out to families in order to provide for the troops.   As you can imagine, fresh fruits and vegetables were in short supply.  In order to keep the nation from starvation, the US Government encouraged folks to help out in any way that they could.  Propaganda posters popped up in every town urging families to plant ‘Victory Gardens’ to provide their own produce.

VG grow vitamins-1

VG food fight(photos courtesy of Victory Garden Foundation)

Over 20 million American families took up the call for ‘victory.’ They collaborated with friends and neighbors and took control of their own food supply.   Even schools got involved in the cause by planting gardens in schoolyards to provide supplemental food for school lunches.  The number of canning supplies sold more than quadrupled from 1943 to 1944.  Eleanor Roosevelt encouraged her fellow citizens by planting a Victory Garden at the White House in 1943.

VG sow seeds(photo courtesy of Victory Garden Foundation)

The plan was a wild success across the nation. As the National WWII Museum website indicates, “By 1944, Victory Gardens were responsible for producing 40% of all vegetables grown in the United States. More than one million tons of vegetables were grown in Victory Gardens during the war.”

FORTY PERCENT of all vegetables? Holy moly! Can you imagine if we did that today??

After the War
After the war was over in 1945, Victory Gardens began to steadily disappear from backyards and rooftops. Grocery stores popped up across the nation and buying everything we needed from them became commonplace. Commercial foods became more widely available and Americans didn’t see any reason to continue growing their own anymore.  New and different problems began to crop up in our nation’s food supply…

“The effort of the victory gardeners was directed toward the defeat of an easily identified enemy – the Axis powers. Today, our ‘enemy’—the eco crisis looming on our horizon—is more elusive and complex and is potentially a greater adversary.”
-Phillip Wenz, San Francisco Gate

Food Today
All right, let’s hop back in those time machines and return to the present day.

Today we live in a very different world than that of the 1940’s. With the opening of commercial grocery stores in towns across the country, the food system has adjusted to meet the ever-increasing demands of the public. Scientists have genetically modified our food in labs.  Farmers have resorted to using industrial methods of growing food and raising livestock.  Vegetables are now coated with poisons in the fields. Animals are kept in tight quarters where they lead miserable lives. All of this all happens even before the food is packed onto a truck, shipped across the country, and stocked in a supermarket. During the long journey almost half of this produce will spoil.

Producing food isn’t what it used to be, and our bodies and wallets are taking the toll.

gmo-pic1(photo courtesy of Occupy New Mexico)

The next time you’re at the grocery store, take a closer look at the produce section.  Do some investigation.  Become a food spy.  You can even wear a trench coat and a spiffy hat!

Try this: Check out the labels to see where the produce comes from. Consider the massive amount of fuel it takes to get a piece of produce all the way across the country. Consider the nutritional value of food that traveled on the road for two weeks before it arrived at your store.  Also consider how hard it is for your local farmer to compete with industrial produce from overseas.  Farm workers in other countries are paid pitiful wages and food safety practices are lax, which makes it cheap and easy to produce low quality, sometimes down right poisonous foods.

weed-killer-comic-e1338669658459(photo courtesy of Indigenous Environmental Network)

 Food is our energy source; it is what we give our bodies to run on.  Food matters. And everything that is done to it before it gets to your mouth matters too.

So, what can we do about it?  
Our agricultural system is a mess, it is enough to make your head spin.  There’s a slew of information available to cover the various problems we’re facing. It’s not my goal today to depress you, it’s my goal to give you hope. If you’d like to research on your own, please check out the links at the bottom of this page. I’m here to tell you there is something that we can do about this.

So, keep reading!

Our problems today may be different from that of 1943 but our solutions are in many ways the same.  We can take a lesson from the wisdom of the past and go back to our old ways.  We can take control of our food: where it comes from, how it’s produced, and what goes into it.  This power can be in your hands, and let me tell you, this is the most almighty of powers!

Bring back the victory garden!
Even without food rationing and propaganda posters, people all across the nation are taking notice of the condition of our food supply and choosing to do something about it. Consumers are starting to look more closely at food labels and are refusing to buy things with unpronounceable ingredients.  Organic foods are becoming an increasingly common sight on grocery store shelves. Farmer’s markets are popping up in neighborhoods across the country.

Even Michelle Obama got into the act and planted a kitchen garden on the lawn of the White House as part of her campaign to end childhood obesity and advocate healthy eating.

Michelle-Obama

White-House-Garden(photo courtesy of Mother Earth News)

Obama was the first First Lady to plant a garden on the White House lawn since Eleanor Roosevelt did so in 1943.  70 years later, her actions give us hope for a new age of agricultural awareness.  She says of her efforts: “It is my hope that our garden’s story – and the stories of gardens across America – will inspire families, schools, and communities to try their own hand at gardening and enjoy all the gifts of health, discovery, and connection a garden can bring.” –Michelle Obama, American Grown

Our collective outlook on food is changing for the better.  Once again, families are taking control of their food, and you can too!

What you have to Gain:

Personal Gratification
There is nothing, nothing so gratifying as walking out your back door to cut some lettuce, pick a tomato, and dig up some carrots to throw together a salad.

You know that the food was grown in sustainable conditions.  You know that the laborer was treated fairly.  You know you’re not eating poison in the form of pesticides and herbicides.  You know that it took zero energy resources (no gas and no oil are used in transport) to get your food to your plate.  Unless of course you’re counting the energy you spent walking into your backyard!

More Money for your Pockets
Skyrocketing food costs are due in part to the increase in gas and oil prices.  The vast majority of our food isn’t even coming from within our states, and all that food has to get to your store somehow. The food you eat is often shipped from farms and factories all over the country, sometimes even all over the world!  New studies show that more than 40% of food is thrown away before it even gets to the consumer, much of that because of spoilage during transit.

Local food advocate Joel Salatin writes on the subject, “The average morsel of food sees more of America than the farmer who grows it, traveling fifteen hundred miles from field to fork.”

Growing your own food on your property cuts out the middleman.   You can take pride in knowing that very little food is wasted when you grow it yourself.  You also don’t have to pay the farmer, the truck driver, the gas company, the cashier, the produce manager, or any one else.  You only pay yourself, and you get paid in a glorious bounty of food…best paycheck ever!

Quote-First-Supermarket-Joel-Salatin(photo courtesy of Natural News)

Control your own destiny
Growing your own food makes you feel powerful in a world where lack of control is commonplace.  Knowing that the food you’re eating is safe and full of nutrition is priceless.  Don’t get lost in the shuffle and leave your fate in the hands of others. You can pull yourself up by your bootstraps and take control!  Families in the 1940’s made an effort to provide for themselves, and you can too!

Be Prepared… (Cue singing hyenas and scar faced lions)
Another reason to grow your own food is for preparedness.  Food is a necessary resource, and we can’t live without it.  In times of need, be it an emergency, or getting laid off from work, it’s important to know that your family can still eat. Having the knowledge and ability to grow food will never let you down.  You’ll never find yourself saying, ‘Dang! What a useless skill!’  Unfortunately, the knowledge and skills for food production are getting lost more and more as each year passes.

Educate the Youngins’
If you talk to many children these days, you’ll find that they’re quite confused about foods that don’t come in boxes and bags.  Many of them can’t tell you that a carrot is the root of a plant, or that mashed potatoes are made with a vegetable that’s grown underground.

If you plant your own victory garden, this can be your way of showing your food independence, but you can also teach your kids valuable lessons.

This next generation is going to have to bear the burden of our current food system.  Change starts with these kids, and raising them well is the best thing you can do for our future. Your kids crave knowledge; they want to learn, so teach them! Allow them to form a connection between the earth and their plates.   Working together in the garden can strengthen your family culture. Cook together, eat together, and you will grow together.

This clip from Jaime Oliver’s Food Revolution documents this issue perfectly.  I can only hope this is a very extreme example of kids’ food knowledge.

You can do it too!
You don’t need to be a farmer to grow a victory garden, and it’s okay if you don’t live on seven acres in the country. You too can grow a victory garden with just a little creativity and persistence.  For city dwellers, you’ll need to think outside the box…or inside the box, rather.

You can grow a lot of food in little containers- boxes, cartons, buckets, bags, even in old tires—the sky’s the limit!  My fiancée and I live in the heart of the city and we still manage to keep chickens and a garden.

Think about how helpful it would be if you could grow even just one of the plants you regularly eat.  You could cut that right out of your grocery bill, and I guarantee it will taste much better than store bought. To read more about growing in small spaces, check out the link on city gardening at the bottom of this article.

No Garden? No Problem!
If growing your own food is an absolute impossibility for you, but you still want to do something to make a difference, there are still several things that you can do.  Consider buying your produce from a farmer’s market, or a CSA (community supported agriculture) instead of from the grocery store.  This food is not only cheaper, it almost always comes from a local farm, and you have the opportunity to talk to the farmer first hand!

586(photo courtesy of Institute for Responsible Technology)

I’m all about putting my money directly into the farmer’s hand for the food they grow, rather than paying several companies in between farm and table.  If your farmer’s market isn’t an option, start making calls to your local grocery store and ask them to carry more produce from local farms.  If they are eager to keep you as a customer, they will do what it takes to make you happy.

I truly believe that every action made to improve our food system makes a difference.  Even if that action is simply shopping at the farmer’s market once a month or starting an herb garden on your windowsill, every little bit of change helps.  These things add up, and before you know it, you may start a food revolution in your own neighborhood.  You can change the world; all you have to do is take that first step.

Victory-Garden-Superheroes(photo courtesy of Red White and Grew)

Sowing for victory in this day and age has a different connotation than it did in the 1940’s.  Growing your own food may not help in the war effort, but it will help save the environment, strengthen family bonds, save money, and increase your independence.

The time is now, so get out there! Sow some seeds! Sow for independence! Sow for knowledge! Sow for victory!

References for further education:

On Victory Gardens:

National WWII Museum

Victory Garden Foundation

Living History Farm

Bring Back the Victory Garden

On Gardening and local agriculture:

Find a CSA near you

Find your local farmer’s market

Small Space, Low Skill Gardening

Michelle Obama’s Kitchen Garden

Gardening Basics for Beginners

Vegetable Gardening for Beginners

On the condition of food:

Milk: America’s Health Problem

Joel Salatin

Food Inc.

Center for Ecoliteracy

Sustainable Table

The Food Trust

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Wow – thank you, Meredith! Now if that doesn’t make you want to get up right now and start your own patio garden or hit up your local farmer’s market, I don’t know what will.

Meredith isn’t just another pretty face full of vast knowledge, folks. She also has baby chickens and a super cute rescued angora rabbit. Go check out her blog!!

xo
Rochelle

  • I love Meredith! So happy to see this awesome guest post! I’ve always been intrigued by victory gardens (especially the cool posters promoting them). I love to garden and find it so gratifying to see the process from starting a seed to eventually harvesting the vegetable and cooking it. So satisfying!

    PS – Rochelle, just wanted to say thanks for checking out my guest post on Meredith’s blog and leaving the sweet comment! I hope you guys can buy land and build your dream house sooner rather than later 🙂

  • Excellent post – thank you. I try to grow things, but I am a plant murderer. I’m persisting with those that have survived though!

    • Hahahaha, I used to be a plant murderer too! I’ve recovered though, I’ve gone three years now with any serious incidents. You should try starting with something hardy and easy- like rosemary, lavender, or thyme. The first things I grew were herbs, they’re very forgiving!

      • Killed my thyme already lol. Also killed a lemon tree, a lime tree and oregano. Basil, rosemary and strawberry are grasping on to sweet life though. 🙂

  • Excellent post! Thank you for sharing! I started growing a few things in pots last year, and I frequently buy from a few local farmer’s markets. Now I’m hoping to start a little garden in our yard. I’m planning it all out right now, and I’m excited! Thanks for pointing me to some great resources!

    • You’re welcome, Becca! Thanks for reading! Good luck with your garden this year, please let me know if you need any help with anything.

  • What a thoroughly enjoyable, interesting, informative read, Meredith. Thank you for sharing some of your vast knowledge on gardening (and its many benefits) with us.

    ♥ Jessica

    • I’m so glad you liked it, Jessica, thanks for reading!

  • Don’t forget all of Michael Pollan’s books! The Omnivore’s Dilemma and In Defense of Food especially. They changed the way I eat. And http://www.yougrowgirl.com and Gayla’s book are what started me into gardening. It is not your grandmother’s gardening book/community! Thanks for sharing. 🙂

    • I love Michael Pollan! I felt the same way about OD, he totally changed my life. I’m going to look into those gardening books, I can’t get enough of them. Thanks for reading!

  • Oh, I’m SO glad you led me to Meredith’s blog! I absolutely love self-sufficient living and reading all about it. It’s how I got led to sewing, and knitting! I honestly feel that the 2 go hand in hand; self-sufficient livers are makers, and makers are much more self-sufficient than “normal” people. <3!

    • I’m so glad you like it, Kristie! I agree that making goes hand in hand with self sufficiency. I’m a knitter as well, I would love to see some of your creations!

  • What I wouldn’t give to have outdoor space… I’m going to save these links for future use. I would love to be able to garden.

  • Krista

    Thanks for a great post, Meredith (and Rochelle)! Dwarf fruit trees are another fabulous addition to a small victory garden! We live in a townhouse with a lot of concrete in our little yard, but we’ve managed to use what planters were there (and big half wine barrels we bought at Lowe’s) to house dwarf lemon, two kinds of apple, two kinds of avocado, mandarin orange, almond, and persimmon trees.

    But probably the best bang (and beauty) for our buck was planting two grape vines. After just a few years, they are massive(!!!), so beautiful, and produce so much delicious fruit! Our garden is relatively little work and adds value to our home and our lives in so many ways! Also: homegrown kale… j’adore! 🙂

    • I’m so glad you said that Krista, because I was JUST thinking today about how I need to get to the nursery and buy some apple trees! We want to grow our trees in containers because we’re going to be moving to the country in a few years and want to be able to take them with us. We have two giant avocado trees in pots right now, they’re our pride and joy!

  • misscrayolacreepy

    I get weekly boxes of produce from a local farm, but it’s sometimes not enough! Luke and I juice almost daily, so we go through fruits and veggies so quick. This post was just what I needed to remind myself to get started on a little garden! I have a huge horse trough and I want to plant in it 🙂

    • Juicing is the BEST! It does eat up fruits and veggies quickly but it’s too delicious and healthy to stop. I can’t wait to see what you do with that horse trough, I love your blog by the way! 🙂

      • misscrayolacreepy

        Thanks, Meredith!!!! xo

  • This is a fab post and really got me thinking. I used to grow loads more when I lived in the UK and it’s so rewarding. Moving to the heat and horrible soil of Arizona has flumoxed me a bit and I’ve only just started experimenting with growing flowers again, but haven’t ventured into vegetables yet. Love all the info., so interesting but especially love Superman, Batman and Robin growing for victory. Cool.

    • I’m so glad you like it! I could understand gardening in Arizona would be very difficult. I’ve had a lot of help by connecting with local gardeners in my city through Facebook groups. I wouldn’t have been able to get started without their help and advice! Good luck to you!

  • Very interesting post, thanks for sharing all this information, Meredith!

    It used to be impossible for us to do any gardening because we lived in a condo with no balcony, but now we have a house so we’re easing into it. Last year I grew container tomatoes and radishes and it was really a neat feeling tending to those plants and getting to eat the fruits of my labor! And it was pretty easy, too. I’m not a huge gardener though, so the main way we try to support sustainable local agriculture is by being members of an organic CSA. The farm is really open and talks regularly about their practices and thoughts on farming in general, which I love since it makes me feel less removed from the whole experience!

    • Thanks for reading, Tasha! I’m so glad you’re enjoying gardening in containers. You should try some strawberries or beans in pots this year, they’re easy to grow and so rewarding because they produce a ton of goodness. I’m glad you’re part of a CSA, supporting your local farmers and being able to talk to them first hand is one of the best things you can do! I love your blog, by the way, I read it all the time! 🙂

  • Hear, Hear!!

  • Great post! There really are no downsides to teaching our future generations this skill. I live in an apartment and have to use planters, yet it’s incredibly easy to plant and grow something simple, like the unused root part of green onions, instead of throwing it away. I want to learn more about seasonal crops and cooking, since here in Japan eating seasonal fish and vegetables is popular and also much cheaper!

    • Thanks for reading Ashley! That’s so amazing that you live in Japan! My fiance and I are going there on our honeymoon and we’re so excited about it. I’m sure you can get your hands on some amazing seeds and starter crops that we don’t have over here in the states. Good luck to you with your container garden!

  • Wonderful post! I need no persuading though; I’ve grown my own in some way ever since leaving home at 17. I started off just with herbs in a hanging basket in my first home which just had a tiny concrete yard (no planting space), but now have a 12′ long vegetable bed in the garden. My garlic, onions, lettuces and carrots are in there, and I have containers with peas, runner beans, potatoes, spring onions (green onions) and herbs. Oh, and some young tomato plants that are still indoors until the weather is warm enough for them to go outside.

    • That’s wonderful, Ginny! I love to meet fellow gardening fiends. Do you do any canning or preserving of your crops at the end of the season? It’s so rewarding to have a fridge and pantry full of food that you grew yourself, as I’m sure you know. Thank you for reading, and feel free to stop by my blog, I’d love to hear more about your fabulous garden!