04 February 2009

Humans in Nature: Victory Gardens

By Delia DeLeest

Go green! Conserve our resources! Save the planet! Many people think these ideas are new, that recycling is modern and that the concept of reducing our use of consumer goods is a 21st century idea. They couldn't be more wrong. These ideas have been around forever, they just become more popular in cycles.

During WWII, people looked on their gardens, not as a cheap way to procure fresh vegetables but as their civic duty. In 1943, Americans planted over 20 million Victory Gardens, which supplied about one third of all the vegetables consumed in the country in that year. By producing their own vegetables, people freed up commercial food supplies for the troops both at home and overseas. When the public took care of themselves, they freed valuable resources to be shipped to brothers, sons and husbands fighting the good fight in Europe and the rest of the world.

It wasn't just the country folks planting gardens. Houses in town frequently sported front yards with grass dug up and replaced by turnips and potatoes. Balconies and window sills in the cities held pots of spinach, tomatoes and beans. Rooftops and vacant lots soon became lush gardens, taken over for the war effort. Gardening wasn't just a good idea; it became your civic duty. With the rationing of canned food in the war areas, a garden became a necessity. Portions of public places, such as Hyde Park in London and San Francisco's Golden Gate Park, were plowed up and planted with vegetables to provide an example for those on the home front. To not have a garden was plain unpatriotic.

There are still two examples of WWII Victory Gardens left, in Massachusetts and Minnesota, though the one in Minnesota is the only one to still focus solely on vegetables. The mass consumerism that took over the world after the war diminished any interest in self-sufficiency until the 'going green' movement began taking over in the late 1990s. Today, when people hear statistics such as how some food travels 1500 miles before it reaches the table, as well as the damage to health commercial pesticides may create, they are once again taking an interest in growing their own food--though now they are doing it for both personal and global advantages instead of as their patriotic duty.