By Gordon Clark
Extension Master Gardener
University of Vermont
In a society driven by high-speed technology and worship of the "new," few phrases have the enduring positive impact in the American lexicon as one that seemingly stands in a different era: victory gardens.
For most of us the association with World War II is tenuous at best, yet the meaning of victory gardens is still suffused with concepts of self-reliance and community, ideals that go beyond U.S. history and speak deeply to what it means to be human.
Food gardening was first promoted in progressive education movements of the 1890s, and again in World War I, but it reached its height in the U.S. at another time of crisis, World War II.
The victory garden movement was a response to shortages and the need to prioritize resources for the war effort. "Dig for Victory!" was a national cry, and the federal government produced loads of how-to educational materials and pro-gardening propaganda, including many of the posters still in circulation today. Even comic book superheroes like Batman and Superman were recruited to promote victory gardens.
And Americans responded in a big way. Backyards, church lots and school grounds were turned into gardens. By 1943 there were an estimated 20 million victory gardens, which produced more than a third of the vegetables and fruits Americans consumed that year.
In addition to supporting the war effort, the common theme for these victory gardens was food security. Grow your own to be sure you had enough. As we fast forward to today's crisis, no message could be more relevant.
The coronavirus pandemic is causing a painful economic crisis that could endure for some time. During the first month of lockdown, more than 22 million Americans lost their jobs. More than 70,000 Vermonters were using the 3SquaresVT federal food assistance program before the crisis began, with many more needing help from local food banks. These numbers are already surging, and the need will only increase in the months ahead.
In response, the University of Vermont (UVM) Extension Master Gardener program is initiating the Vermont Victory Garden project, designed to help people impacted by food insecurity to meet those needs, as well as learn critical skills in a healthy environment, by growing some of their own food.
The project will connect expert food gardeners, including UVM Extension Master Gardener volunteers, with those in need and the organizations that serve them, teaching new gardeners while establishing two different types of gardens:
* Neighborhood Network Gardens--Four (or more) families in a neighborhood establishing gardens on their properties that will be planted and maintained in common, with harvests shared among the participating families.
* Community Food Shed Gardens--Larger gardens planted on the land of local public or non-profit institutions (houses of worship, libraries and fire stations, among others) with the intent of producing nutrient dense and/or good storage crops (for example, beans, potatoes, sweet potatoes, winter squash) with harvests to be distributed among community members and local food banks.
We are proud to note that Vermont's own High Mowing Seeds is a sponsor of Vermont Victory Gardens and will be donating the seed.
Can you help?
We are looking for experienced gardeners, as well as those wishing to start neighborhood or community gardens. If you fit those criteria, or know someone who does, please send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org by May 12.
Vermonters must stand together, as we always do, to weather these difficult times. And there is no firmer soil to stand on than in the garden. Please join us.