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Victory Gardens Reborn
MountainHome - Looking Back Column
August 2008
by Joyce M. Tice

When the going gets tough, the tough get gardening. The dooryard or farm vegetable garden has been a major part of our food supply since we domesticated plants. Gardens were invented before grocery stores. As people migrated to urban areas in the twentieth century and labor became more specialized, fewer and fewer people grew any of their own food. The trend continues today with ever increasing numbers of people living in landless apartments or condominiums, cultivating lawn grass instead of tomatoes, and eating food flown in from all over the world in all seasons. During times of rising food prices or shortages many find themselves inspired to dig up a little dirt and put in a few plants of their own.

During war times government agencies encouraged citizens to grow and preserve as much of their own food as possible. The Victory Gardens, begun in World War One, were revived in World War Two. Providing part of your own and your neighbor’s food was the patriotic thing to do. Not only did it make more food and fuel available to the troops, it also filled in some of the dietary gaps that food rationing had created. City dwellers worked in assigned garden plots in public parks, and sheep grazed on the White House lawn. Community agencies offered classes in gardening and preserving to help people succeed in their effort.

The very first so-called War Garden was at Fort Dix in New Jersey in 1918. Encouraged by the War Garden Commission, 400 acres of land on the army base were converted to garden and tended by some of the 48,000 individuals who were being trained there for war or who were convalescing or otherwise non-combatant. The garden served as an inspirational example to the rest of the population and was also a test garden for methods. The war gardens of World War Two were so successful and produced such abundance of produce, that when the gardeners hung up their rakes and shovels after the war ended in 1946, food shortages were the result. The commercial producers had not yet come up to speed in the transition.

Today’s Victory Garden is inspired by global warming and rising fuel costs. Greater consciousness about food quality and safety is also a motivation. Home gardens are popping up where they’ve never been before, and small gardens have expanded. In addition to the pleasure of better tasting and more nutritious food, the goal of having as little fossil fuel as possible invested in our food supply is in the forefront. Higher fuel costs are passed into everything we buy, so the closer our food is grown to our kitchens, the more efficient and the less costly the process.

The movement to buy local food is also gaining momentum. Under the larger heading of Community Sponsored Agriculture or C.S.A., organizations to promote and help make local food available are forming in all areas. C.S.A. allows consumers to build a relationship with the farm producer so that they know where their food comes from and how it is produced and handled. Joan Poole of New Brunswick, New Jersey reports that they used to have one farmers market available. Last year a second was added, and this year they now have access to three farmers markets close to her neighborhood. She also buys shares in the produce of a local organic farm. Every Thursday she can go to the farm and get her weekly box of whatever is available in that season. There is a waiting list of those who want to participate.

Joan is typical in that she lives in an established neighborhood where the trees have grown up to create a lot of shade. Her own backyard vegetable garden last year failed for lack of adequate sun. This year she is tracking the sun to identify the best place to try again. Community standards in her neighborhood, and many others, still discourage growing vegetables in the front yard. If food prices go high enough, that, too, could change. Five years from now we may see neighbors competing on the height of their front yard corn rather than the shade of green of their grass.

In our area we have an abundance of farm markets and fruit/vegetable stands where local produce is available. In Tioga County Food Routes works to match local farmers and gardeners with restaurants or grocery stores to make local food available. In Potter County Food Matrix promotes and facilitates the production and distribution of local organic foods. The internet can help you find local sources of fresh food. Local Harvest in is a national organization that provides resources to promote home gardening and farmers markets. By typing in your zip code on their web-site you can find local farmers markets, farm-stands, or restaurants using local food. Pennsylvania distributes coupons to senior citizens to be spent on local food through the Area Agency on Aging which is in each Pennsylvania county. I will also include a page on my web-site with all the local resources I can find.

We should not lose sight of one of the best reasons for growing a vegetable garden. It’s fun. It’s also good exercise, and it is very satisfying to have food available from your own efforts. Two of my uncles, both now deceased, grew gardens that fed their neighborhoods. Gerald Miller, a.k.a. Uncle Jerry, of Altay, New York, always had the biggest garden in the neighborhood. He was a single man, and he canned food at the end of the season. But he also kept the entire neighborhood supplied with fresh food all summer. So did my Uncle Phil Miller of Elmira. He had the neatest, most weed free garden ever, and if he visited anyone else who had weeds, he’d not leave until that garden was properly weeded as well. It is very satisfying to grow a garden in all its stages. In the winter you can plan it and dream. In the spring you plant, and in the summer you can meander and graze fresh food, as I so often do. Any thing left over can be preserved, given away or sold through a farmer’s market or directly.

If you haven’t gardened before, start small. You can even grow tasty food in containers on a patio. Once you’ve tasted the difference between fresh tomatoes or cucumbers from those you get in the grocery stores, you’ll be hooked.

Notes: Not part of article.

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Published On Tri-Counties Site On 08/04/2008
By Joyce M. Tice 
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