War is a terrible thing but it frequently provides nations with a narrow focus in which to vector their energies. Thanks to those efforts, we often see rapid advances in technology or completion of significant organizational and engineering feats in short spans of time. One such endeavor that many Americans undertook during WWII was the nationwide planting of ‘victory gardens’. Citizens were exhorted to turn their back yards and apartment rooftops into vegetable garden plots to help ease demands the war placed on industrial farming. It’s estimated that about 20 million of these gardens provided nearly 40% of the vegetables consumed during the war. That’s no small potatoes! (rim shot)
Tojo and Hitler may not be threatening to invade now, but between E. Coli scares, environmental concerns, retiring baby boomers with more time on their hands, and a desire for the freshest, tastiest produce available, starting our own ‘victory garden’ makes more sense now than ever. Lets look at a few of the reasons why:
Eating like kings
– make no mistake, large scale industrial farming has provided the world with an unprecedented quantity
of food, but the past few generations of folks living in industrialized societies who have been raised upon food sold in supermarkets have little notion of what quality
was sacrificed to achieve this result unless they have experienced eating home-grown vegetables. Industrial farmed fruits and vegetables are harvested from fields, shipped to processing/packaging facilities, and then shipped to regional food distribution warehouses and then trucked once again to the local supermarket where it is finally placed on the shelf to await purchase by the consumer. While refrigeration technology aids considerably in preserving produce from spoilage, it does not provide anywhere near the same freshness and flavor as two-minute old produce (or perhaps 20-minute old produce if grown on a community garden plot) that goes directly from the garden to the kitchen.
Industrial farming not only deprives food of freshness, but often the types of plants grown are inferior in terms of flavor and texture to homegrown produce. Many varieties of fruits and vegetables are grown based on how well they ship and store, as opposed to how they taste. Varieties of strawberries, for instance, are selected for firmness (to withstand their journey through the packaging facility, and subsequent transport) and lower levels of sweetness (to diminish spoilage on the shelf). Home gardeners, not facing these challenges, can plant softer and sweeter varieties.
Ecological concerns and consumer choice
– Human activities disturb natural ecosystems in a variety of ways, and while some practices pose more serious threats to the environment than others, it’s safe to say that industrial farming practices represent some of the most visible
threats. Various chemical fertilizers have been created to inject nitrogen, phosphorus, and other substances into the soil. Fungicides are sprayed on fields to kill fungi, herbicides to kill weeds, and pesticides to kill insects. There is growing concern that the chemicals used in enhancing food production levels may be contributing to the increase of cancer rates seen in industrialized countries over the last century. Similar arguments can also be made for human activities contributing to climate change.
Regardless of whether or not one agrees that humans are contributing to global warming, or increasing cancer rates by our land management practices, there can be no debate that growing even a portion of our own produce allows us more control over what we eat. If one is comfortable applying pesticides to their tomatoes weekly then they can do so with a clear conscience, knowing precisely which and how much of each chemical they use. Concerned about eating genetically modified plants? Then don’t plant any hybrid seeds. If someone wants to grow a garden using 100% organic gardening practices they can do that too – the bottom line is being your own grower affords ultimate control over what you and your family eats.
– I alluded earlier to the fact that baby boomers are beginning to retire. Traditionally, seniors are among the most enthusiastic and active gardeners. For sheer numbers this demographic trend bodes well for garden clubs everywhere. But there is no reason gardening has to be the sole province of seniors. Sure, seniors tend to have more time to devote to the craft than most working adults, but people of all ages can gain a great deal of expertise and minimize their own failures by benefiting from the experience (read this as mistakes others have already made
) and knowledge that garden clubs provide. In fact, I’ve never heard of any garden club offering anything less than an enthusiastic welcome for any younger folks that show an interest by attending.
Garden clubs are one way of meeting new people, community gardens are another. What’s great about a community garden is that not only does one get to grow one’s own food alongside others within their community, but one also can grow social bonds too. Anyone who has ever visited or taken part in a community garden knows that they are great for breaking down social barriers. One tenet of New Urbanism is that back yard decks tend to promote privacy (and therefore discourage contact with neighbors) whereas front porches tend to increase visibility and exposure (and therefore encourage contact). This same holds true when one is tying up their tomatoes while a neighbor stands a few feet away watering their cabbages. What a great way to make new friends.
– this line of reasoning appeals to the survivalist-libertarian-black helicopter impulses lurking secretly and deeply within our selfish souls
The ability to grow ones own food has gradually become less of a necessary survival skill over time as greater labor specialization and industrialization have taken place. Nowadays, other people grow all of our food. We get paid money for programming computers, repairing air conditioners, or constructing houses (oh, and planning viable communities!) and hand that money over to folks who grow and ship that food to us. Industrial agriculture is a much more efficient
enterprise in terms of labor inputs than small scale agriculture or gardening, but all the necessary sophisticated machines and other technology have placed food production into the hands of relatively few people. What happens if the world’s oil supply is suddenly crippled or if war or some other civil disorder impairs the normal food distribution networks? Obviously, the people with the know-how to grow their own produce are in a better position than most to survive (so stock up on ammo, fresh water, and seeds today