As food prices continue to soar and industrial farming practices continue to impoverish the soil and its produce, more and more folks are going back in time. The 1940’s victory garden is making a comeback, only this time, we’re facing a different war: the war on our health and food supply.
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THE VICTORY GARDEN VIDEO
Want to watch me rant and rave about modern farming practices and victory gardens? Here’s the video. If you like what you see, I hope you’ll subscribe to my YouTube channel!
WHAT’S A VICTORY GARDEN?
If you’re unfamiliar with what a victory garden is, we’re going to rewind to the 1940s. The world was at war and every household had to deal with strict rationing. While I’m sure many grumbled about this, many were eager to do their part to contribute to the war effort, doing everything they could to help on the homefront.
To supplement rations, and to also help reduce the cost of the produce that had to be purchased to feed the troops, the victory garden was born. “Digging for victory” was the name of the game, and governments encouraged citizens to participate. There were educational handbooks, pamphlets and videos sharing tips on what to plant and how to grow and preserve food.
Everyone who could grow food didn’t hesitate to keep a garden. Apartment dwellers kept balcony gardens or grew food in planters or on rooftops. There were backyard gardens and community gardens. Every space was used to grow: even Eleanore Roosevelt turned the White House lawn into a garden!
Whole families got involved in the process, with planning, planting, maintaining, harvesting and preserving. There was a real community effort, too, with neighbours exchanging seeds and their experience. Here’s a lovely short vintage video explaining more:
DIGGING FOR SELF-SUFFICIENCY
I consider myself lucky. When I was eight years old, my family moved to the countryside where my parents kept a hobby farm. Naturally, I didn’t quite appreciate this gift. The free-range eggs weren’t the treasure they are now, and neither was the root cellar and larder full of my mother’s garden bounty. Dozens of jars full of home-stewed tomatoes, poached pears in syrup, dilly beans, and apple sauce. An herb garden that was a few steps away from the kitchen. In the spring we ate tender asparagus and it just kept getting better as summer drew to a close. Let me tell you one thing: self-sufficiency tastes delicious. There’s also something mighty powerful about growing your own food.
WHY IS THE VICTORY GARDEN MAKING A COMEBACK?
In my post on natural cleaning ingredients to start using now, I touch on what’s happening in our current landscape. It’s a scary world we live in when 1 in 3 Americans (or 1 in 2 Canadians) are expected to be diagnosed with cancer at some point in their lives. There’s been an increase in childhood allergies and rates for Alzheimer’s, multiple sclerosis, heart disease, and infertility are on the rise.
It’s hard to point a finger at what exactly is causing these problems to surge and I don’t think we can assign blame to a single cause. One possibility lies is our increasing exposure to EMF’s (electromagnetic frequencies) from our wireless devices. Another is our exposure to toxins. They’re in the air we breathe and in our drinking water; they are in the beauty products we use and worse, in the food we eat to survive.
Taking back control of at least some of the food we eat is a big step forward in reducing our exposure to toxins. There’s something that’s deeply gratifying about plucking a ravishingly ripe tomato off the vine knowing that it wasn’t sprayed with glyphosate and pesticides. What you harvest will taste better than anything you can find in a grocery store (farmer’s markets don’t count) because everything is picked at peak freshness. Your apples, peppers, cucumbers and tomatoes aren’t coated in wax to keep them fresh longer because maximizing profit isn’t your bottom line.
A VICTORY GARDEN WILL SAVE YOU MONEY IN THE LONG RUN
When you first get started with any hobby, gardening included, there are startup costs involved. However, gardening, I think, shouldn’t be viewed as a hobby anymore. We should look at keeping a victory garden as a means for survival and good health. There are basic tools you will need to dig and maintain a garden, but if you get along well with your neighbours, you might not have to invest a whole lot of money upfront.
If you are able to borrow the garden tools you need, or even find them at a garage sale, you can save more than a few dollars. Perhaps you can take a neighbourhood inventory of what everyone has, building deeper community bonds at the same time. It’s also heartening to see that dollar stores have many gardening tools available to help you on your journey towards victorious self-sufficiency. As for seeds? Ask around! I personally have a good collection of seeds I’d be only too happy to share if asked, and I have friends who are the same. Also, once you learn how to collect seeds from your crop, you won’t need to spend as much on seeds for the following year unless you want to.
The thing is, food costs are rising and have been for a number of years. Whenever I walk into a grocery store, I can feel the pinch more than ever. The price of cucumbers and tomatoes is shocking, especially since they’re often grown locally in a greenhouse. It’s hard for me to find green or red lettuce on sale for less than $2.50, and I’m sure you can think of many examples yourself!
A VICTORY GARDEN WILL TEACH YOU TRANSFERRABLE SKILLS
It’s sad to say, but many of us have lost touch with our food. Gardening is one of those skills that should be passed down from generation to generation but like knitting, sewing, and cooking from scratch, it fell through the cracks. We learn by doing, and if our parents don’t make sure we work alongside them, our skillset suffers.
My Oma, for example, has the biggest green thumb I know. Plants love her, and she passed down a lot of her knowledge to my mom, which, try as she might, just doesn’t have the same touch. Still, I learned a thing or two from her about gardening, but not as much as I would have if I had worked alongside her in my youth. Now that I’m ardently working on developing this skill, I fully intend to pass my accumulated knowledge down to my own children.
RECONNECTING WITH OUR FOOD
I don’t even want to think about how many people are clueless about where their food comes from. In reading Julia Child’s My Life in France (one of my favourite books), she describes trips to the market and how fish and poultry would still have their heads on so the buyer would know they were getting what was advertised. Can you imagine? These days we find fake meat in the meat section and Frankenfoods almost everywhere else. That’s why it’s so important to get back to nature and to reconnect with the food on our plates.
When we learn how to garden, we are able to connect directly with our food. We till the soil with our sweat and plant the seeds that will yield the harvest. When the first shoots pop up, we rejoice. Our hands and labour go into growing and nurturing the food we eat. The deeper down the gardening rabbit hole we go, we learn that everything is connected. For instance, we learn that plants need animals and vice versa. It’s a beautiful biodynamic relationship, a true circle of life if you will. The grocery store is seldom the same after we reconnect with our food.
THE VICTORY GARDEN WILL IMPROVE YOUR HEALTH
A victory garden will yield you fresh, organic produce (assuming you don’t spray chemical pesticides) that’s better than anything you can find in a grocery store. When you pluck that sun-ripened cherry tomato and pop it in your mouth, there’s nothing sweeter. With your garden’s bounty, you can start centring your meals around what the garden is giving you. Keeping a vegetable garden is a sure way to ensure you get more vegetables in your diet and it feels so rewarding, too. If you keep a cut flower garden in addition to a vegetable patch (this will help attract pollinators), bringing in a fresh bouquet adds cheer to the home and enlivens the spirit.
Then there’s the extra fresh air and sunlight that you’re getting. Most of us spend far too much time indoors. After a long day of work, going outside to spend time in the garden holds very little appeal to some. Chilling on the couch with Netflix sounds much better, doesn’t it? But here’s the thing: going outside will make you feel better and will do you a lot more good than being sedentary will. Gardening is good exercise, and goodness knows we could all do with some more of that!
I DON’T HAVE TIME TO KEEP A VICTORY GARDEN
I get it. Last year I was working full-time and trying to keep everything together at home. I really don’t know how women do it. Going out into my garden and working on it was a respite and it let me breathe and get myself together. Weekends were better because I could spend some quality time pulling weeds but for the most part, I wasn’t able to put in as much time as I wanted to tend to my little victory garden. Neither did the womenfolk of WWII.
If you didn’t know, WWII women had to work long hours for the good of the war effort. Upon returning home, they had to take care of their families and put food on the table, much like today. They kept up with their home and their gardens got the care they needed. How did they do it? Necessity. They had to. And so do we, as much as we are able. Of course, it certainly helps when you involve others in the work!
I DON’T HAVE ENOUGH SPACE FOR A VICTORY GARDEN
Pish posh! Victory gardens were everywhere in the 1940s. Folks grew food on rooftops and balconies, window sills and even at work. Community gardens also provided a means of growing a small crop and are still viable options today. When I lived in Montreal, I was in a neighbourhood with a serious green thumb. On some of the tree-lined streets, each tree had a little garden at the base of the tree. Businesses kept little gardens on the sidewalks. Hollowed tree trunks, gallon buckets and even burlap sacks made excellent planters out on the street. Looking up, you would see beautiful balcony gardens, cucumbers and squash climbing on wrought iron fencing. A little ingenuity goes a long way.
MAKE YOUR LAWN PRODUCTIVE
This likely won’t be a popular viewpoint, but I’m going to be radical here and suggest growing produce instead of maintaining a lawn. Would you be brave enough? What would the neighbours think? I really don’t know at what point in time that the lawn became a thing. Every couple of weeks (or every month in my case) it needs to be mowed, which takes time and fuel. Some people are so nitpicky about their own lawns that they have poisons sprayed on their land to get rid of “weeds” like dandelions. If a lawn has edible “weeds” growing, like dandelions and violets, it’s an indicator of good health. Why not encourage that kind of biodiversity while growing food at the same time?
When I moved into my house a year and a half ago there was a small garden patch and an herb garden at my disposal. On my front lawn, I planted a raspberry bush (fingers crossed that it survives the cruel Canadian winter). In the back yard, I introduced rhubarb, a lilac bush, forsythia, and hydrangeas because they bring me joy. This year I have plans to expand the garden by adding onto the present patch and installing a couple of raised beds and a compost bin. As for my flower beds out front, I want them to be lettuce and brassicas beds. Do you know what this means? There will be less grass to cut!
GET THE WHOLE FAMILY INVOLVED
Keeping a victory garden shouldn’t be a solitary activity. Use it as a means to bring the family together by getting everyone involved in the entire process. Plan the garden together, deciding on what to grow and learn how to make those plants flourish. Plant the seeds, thin the plants and defend them from weed invaders. It’s not always easy getting kids to help, but when they have a stake in the garden, or maybe even their own tiny plot, they’ll be more interested in sticking around. Come harvest time, a new adventure begins: preserving!
THANKS FOR DROPPING BY THE KITCHEN!
All in all, a victory garden takes time, but like most things, what you give in, you get back. The victory comes from growing healthy, nourishing produce and reaping all these other great benefits:
Getting more sunlight, fresh air and exercise (and being less sedentary)
Learning or developing transferrable skills
Strengthened familial or community bonds
Greater self-sufficiency and satisfaction from growing your own food
Now I want to hear from you! Are you a gardener or an aspiring gardener? Do you keep a garden or want to? I hope you’ll let me know in the comments below!
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Love and gratitude,