Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Bring Back the Victory Gardens!

Are Victory Gardens an idea whose time has come back? Could a quick history lesson lead to a better future?

During World War II, Americans lived with rations of such necessities as tires, gasoline, sugar, and other foodstuffs. The US government encouraged ordinary people to create Victory Gardens; small plots of fruits and vegetables to stave off food shortages so more mass-produced food could be sent to feed the troops.

The people responded. Two million Americans created Victory Gardens in their backyards or communities. According to author Michael Pollan, "...during World War II, Victory Gardens supplied as much as 40% of the produce Americans ate."

Victory Gardens were more than a war time activity, they were a social phenomenon. Schools and families planted Victory Gardens together, often on communal land. Families caught up on news as they planted and harvested. Nutrition information was widely disseminated to help home cooks create balanced meals for their families. Our current obesity epidemic must have been unimaginable to those gardeners.

Today there are many gardens that are very much like the Victory Gardens of old. In backyards across America folks are growing their own produce, spices and herbs. They harvest fruits and vegetables that have been raised without pesticides and enjoy them when they are at the peak of their freshness and nutritional value. Adding home-grown fare to the fresh produce from a local farm stand or a farmers market gives gardeners the best of both worlds.

If you’d like to try your hand at growing some food of your own but don’t have your own backyard, you can join a community garden. In 2004, the American Community Gardening Association (ACGA) estimated that there were already 18,000 community gardens across the USA and Canada. Urban community gardens can be found from South Central Los Angeles to the Bronx in New York City. If there’s no community garden near your home, think about organizing your neighbors to get one started.

Funded by federal grants, GreenThumb has been a program of the NYC Parks Department since 1995. The nonprofit organization has over 600 member gardens serving 20,000 city residents. New York University released a study of the effect of community gardens on nearby property values. The study of 636 community gardens in NYC showed a positive effect on sales prices of residential properties within a 1,000-foot radius of a community garden when compared to properties outside the 1,000-foot ring, but still in the same neighborhood. The effect was significant and increasing over time. The tax benefit to the city over a 20-year period was estimated at $647 million dollars or $1 million per garden. Who knows how much might be saved on medical costs by the healthier diet the gardens make possible.

Not all benefits are measured in dollars. Here’s what Karen Washington from the Garden of Hope in the Bronx had to say about her experience:

"To grow your own food gives you a sort of power and it gives people dignity. You know exactly what you’re eating because you grew it. It’s good, it’s nourishing and you did this for yourself, your family and your community."
Victory Gardens could bring down the cost of food for American families and make organic poroduce more widely available. We could reduce America’s reliance on oil simply by keeping vegetable gardens and cutting down on the amount of food that has to be transported by truck. Victory Gardens would reduce the need for petroleum-based fertilizers on giant corporate farms. If you’re unhappy about where all the money Americans spend on oil and gasoline is going, then spread the word: Bring Back the Victory Gardens!


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