This year marks the 100th anniversary of the Victory Garden. In case you’re unfamiliar with this bit of agricultural history, here’s a quick summary:
Victory Gardens became popular during World War I as a way to ease demand on the public food supply, as well as boost morale for Americans struggling through a major war. The Victory Garden campaign was then resurrected during World War II for all the same reasons, but this time, it spread across European nations as well.
The government, during both wars, encouraged families to grow fruits and vegetables in their yards, as well as in community gardens.
The idea to encourage backyard and community gardens sprung from the need to increase food supply at a time when our agricultural resources were being shifted elsewhere, and transportation facilities were needed for the war effort.
Every family that grew their own tomatoes, carrots, berries, herbs and cucumbers did so because they truly felt like their backyard garden was contributing to a larger cause. President Woodrow Wilson said, “Food will win the war.”
So what does this have to do with us today? Is there a place for Victory Gardens in 21st century America?
Well, let’s think about this: there might not be a great American war raging in the traditional sense, but what about a war against corporate greed? Unsafe farming practices? Chemicals invading our environment and polluting our water supply? An economic culture that forces us to rely almost exclusively on corporations for our well-being? Worker exploitation?
What if we started fighting for the small family farmer? For a cleaner watershed? For an environment with less greenhouse gasses? For healthy soil that won’t erode when the wind blows? For produce grown in an environment that didn’t exploit labor?
The more food we grow ourselves, the less we rely on corporate supermarkets, shipping companies and corporate mega-farms for our food. For every tomato we grow ourselves, that’s one less tomato that had to be trucked across the country in a hot semi from a corporate farm to a chain store.
The more organic fertilizers and soil amendments we use, the less we rely on multi-national chemical companies to feed our plants (and ruin our soil). For every bag of Worm Compost, or alfalfa meal, or biochar, or fish emulsion, we use, that’s less money going into the pockets of billion-dollar chemical companies. Natural fertilizers and amendments also replenish the microorganisms and organic matter in the soil that chemicals destroy.
The more we shop from local farms, co-ops, CSAs and farmers markets, the more of our money stays right here in our own community. For every bundle of radishes you buy directly from the local farmer who grew it, that’s money going to a family that lives, plays, works and goes to school within 50 miles of your own home.
So, you want to do your part to heal the planet? Rely less on corporations for your food. Rely less on laboratories for your fertilizer. Rely MORE on locally-grown organic food—that either you grow or a small family farmer has grown for you. Let’s re-introduce Victory Gardens for the 21st century— the war might not be the same as it was a hundred years ago, but if we lose this one, what kind of planet will we leave for our kids?
If you’d like to grow more chemical-free food for your family this year, check out these Good Sweet Earth products, or (if you live in West Michigan) hire your own personal garden consultant to walk you through the growing season. If you’d like to buy some local produce, here are a few local West Michigan sources we love that you can try out this year as well:
With temps barely reaching 30 degrees it’s hard to think about your garden, but being cooped up on these long winter nights, I think this is the best time to start planning for spring! So what is a gardener to do in February?
First, take a look back at your garden journal and see what worked last year and what didn’t. (Not sure what a garden journal is? Check out this post from last season that explains why a garden journal is essential to successful gardening.)
Next, make a list of what which fruits and vegetable you would like to grow this year. Everyone seems to want the staples of a backyard garden—cucumbers, zucchini, tomatoes, and green beans. Those are easy to grow and make a fine garden, but browse a few seed catalogs and consider branching out! One of our garden consultation clients is growing Amaranth which is a grain related to quinoa—how fun!
For me, this year I am working on expanding my perennials including planting more raspberries, strawberries, additional apple trees, and chamomile for tea. Also decide if you want to start seedlings or purchase seedlings from a local nursery. Some plants are best direct sown into the soil such as lettuce, carrots, cucumbers and green beans. Others, such as peppers, tomatoes and eggplant, need a head start with our shorter growing season. We are pretty lucky here in West Michigan with many greenhouse choices to purchase seedlings, so if growing your own seems intimidating, rest assured you will have a good selection of pros nearby to get those seeds going for you (for a price).
Finally, order your seeds! There are lots of great places to order organic seeds from but some of my favorites include Johnny's Selected Seeds, Seed Savers Exchange and Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds. Happy Gardening!
Steve & Corey Veldheer are organic yard & garden specialists in west Michigan.