During WWII, America united in the war effort. We had a unified voice in all things that would help win against an enemy that most Americans would not see personally. Children rushed to dump the contents of their piggy banks because we needed copper for bullets. Women became workers that built ships, tanks and airplanes for the war and we celebrated Rosie the Riveter. We planted Victory Gardens and encouraged food preservation through canning because tin was needed for the war and workers were needed for the war effort. In 1942, roughly 15 million families planted victory gardens; by 1944, an estimated 20 million victory gardens produced roughly 8 million tons of food—which was the equivalent of more than 40 percent of all the fresh fruits and vegetables consumed in the United States.
Key to America’s survival in the homeland was the national push for Victory Gardens; symbolizing independence and American’s ability to adapt. Those who did not garden were left at the mercy of survival solely by governmental rations of food, long bread lines and ration stamps. Those who planted Victory Gardens had the needed food to continue working as the nation struggled toward victory. Only two of these original Victory Gardens survive to today. One is located at the Richard D. Parker Memorial Victory Gardens in Boston’s Fenway and the other is the Dowling Community Gardens in Minneapolis.
Jump forward to today. We are once again fighting an enemy we can not see with our only defense being equipment and supplies that are hard to come by. Our meat processing facilities are threatened by outbreaks while our grocery stores can not keep enough stock on hand to meet the needs of everyone eating at home. Production in the United States has always focused on two separate markets; the consumer market and the commercial market. There is no adaptability between the two systems that have been specialized to specific markets. Packaging, size, quality, preparation, transportation and pricing all affect these two separate supply chains.
The problem is compounded by extreme weather associated with climate change. The western United States in undergoing a drought that makes the Dust Bowl of the 40’s appear meaningless. Bee and pollinator populations continue to plummet after the current Administration approved broad, expansive insecticides that are known to kill bee and pollinator populations.
Absent a federal response that meets the gravity of the moment, we are left to figure out how we are going to move forward with hope for our families and our future. Your grandmother would most likely encourage you to plant a garden to supplement your food needs for the short term. Chances are, she did it when your parents were young.
In a space of 20 x 30 feet (600 square feet), you can grow enough food to feed two adults for close to 8 months. If your family is larger, you can use more space to grow your Hope Garden. There is a plethora of information available online. Your county extension office, local DNR or any Master Gardener site can also assist you.
Preservation of food has come a long way since 1943. Options now include traditional canning, freezing or dehydration. All are effective and fairly simple to accomplish even at beginning levels. Fresh apple pie in the dead of winter is as American as pot roast with potatoes, gravy and a side or two of garden vegetables. Home made jelly on a slice of home-baked bread still warm from the oven has a certain nostalgia that is hard to beat. Sweet corn in January that tastes like it was picked yesterday is beyond rewarding.
This is the time to make your decision. This is the time to remove the sod from the space you want to garden in, so you are not fighting weeds and grasses among your vegetables. This is the time to choose vegetables based on your family’s preferences and source seeds or bedding plants to get the most from your growing season.
Yes, gardening is a commitment. So is marriage, being a parent or having a career. But food is essential to survival. Being totally dependent on others for your food places you and those you provide for at risk. Reduce your risk by realizing you can do this, you can have hope, and you can have a Hope Garden to gain that edge up in what appears to be a crumbling system whose consequences are not fully understood yet.