Monday, December 5, 2011

From Patriotism to Protest: A Victory Garden Retrospective

I have to admit, I am more than oblivious to most politics, most of the time. I subscribe to the theory that the further one is from the Beltway, the less one cares about it. That is certainly true for my corner of Southern California.  We tend to absorb ourselves in local matters, school and library cuts, sales and property tax rates, and ever more glaring infrastructure issues (hello potholes the size of hubcaps). However, thanks to social networking, I recently came across an article on Victory Gardening and the Occupy Movement that presented a correlation that had completely escaped me. I stopped to think, is the act of growing vegetables at home a political statement?

World War I Victory Garden Poster
Kitchen gardens were the norm rather than the exception for much of our country’s history. If one wanted it, one grew it in the appropriate season. Mass urbanization of the population in the late nineteenth century made this less feasible for many depending on their living situation, but the parallel development of commercial, industrialized farming began to meet demand for foodstuffs. War threw a monkey wrench in that process, and as early as American entry into World War I, our government advocated the home Victory Garden as a means for feeding the homeland while industrialized agriculture fed the troops overseas. World War I victory gardening resulted in the planting of 5 million gardens and produced food valued at 1.2 billion dollars! World War II victory gardening was even more impressive with a total of 20 million gardens planted and yielded a total of 9-10 million pounds of produce, equal to commercial produce farming at that time. I can only imagine this awesome feat, half of all the produce in the nation, grown locally for local consumption! It is interesting to note the U.S. Department of Agriculture feared the Victory Garden would hurt the food industry. Since it was portrayed as an act of patriotism, they could hardly protest too much.  After World War II, much of the energy and enthusiasm of the Victory Garden movement petered out and was soon eclipsed by the return to peacetime, renewed agricultural industrialization and the arrival of the baby boom generation.  Who has time to tend garden when tending lots of babies?!

World War II Victory Garden Poster
For the rest of the twentieth century, victory gardening fell by the wayside, but thanks to a dash of revolution (Environmentalism, Back to the Land Movement, and anti-Corporation advocates) and traditional heritage gardeners (grassroots seed banks, heirloom growers, and bloggers), the victory garden has experienced a popular resurgence. This grassroots movement is now so mainstream that mass media print has joined the party. There is a vegetable garden at the White House for the first time since World War II. Occupy protesters now view home gardening as an anti-corporate response the over-commercialization of food; grow local and eat local. Homeowners are killing their lawns to make room for food, fostering community, and wrecking zoning havoc in residential areas. Some see the home garden movement as a component in turning the tide of obesity in our country, providing nutritious, unprocessed, and cheap food to the masses as it did during the war years. I find myself bewildered at times with all the politics. The reasons I started victory gardening were seek a connection to my immigrant heritage and to grow good-tasting food. (I HATE CARDBOARD TOMATOES!) But all actions have consequences and perhaps we are only just beginning to see the results of our home gardening choices.

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