By Chris Mazzarella
As our nation’s birthday draws near I find myself thinking about what food production has looked like in the past and the role it has played in our culture. More specifically, I’ve been thinking about victory gardens.
Americans began planting these gardens during World War I in European nations that needed to dedicate as many resources as possible to the war effort. With slogans like, “Dig for Victory” and “The Seeds of Victory ensure the Fruits of Peace,” these gardens were pushed forth as a means by which people could lessen their demand on the nation’s food supply thus leaving greater resources for the troops. This was especially important in Europe where many people working in agriculture were conscripted into military service. We continued to see victory gardens through World War II with their numbers slowly trailing off in the subsequent decades.
During wartime, these gardens were considered thrifty and patriotic, and a means by which to boost morale by giving people full control of their production and the benefits they reaped as a result of their labor. These days, in the United States, there are reputedly only 2 victory gardens left in operation. The Dowling Community Garden in Minneapolis got its start in the early 1920’s and the Fenway Victory Garden in Boston, which broke ground in 1941. These two gardens stand as living history of what our nation was capable of doing in times of great need. It bears mentioning too, the large garden that First Lady Michelle Obama had installed at the White House. While not a victory garden per se, it stands for many of the same functions and values.
I began to wonder how my garden reflects those same values. Fortunately, we as a nation don’t have a major war to fight right now. But what victories do our gardens give us?
For me, my garden gives me a small escape from long days. I get to come home from a hectic day at work and relish in the quiet tranquility of my crops, and happily imagine the delicious dishes I can make with them. Much like was originally intended, being able to grow what I want and need makes me incredibly happy. It boosts my morale. Gardens also make for great fun at parties when guests decide to perch on your straw bales and nibble at your chard, and they generate excitement about gardening. Friends and guests get to see what a garden looks like and just how much food comes out, and often inspiration ensues and they’re calling you two days later asking all kinds of questions.
The victories that come from gardens are numerous. They give us food, they mitigate stress and liven social gatherings, and they give us some control over what we eat and where it comes from. Gardens are a personal statement and these days, an ever-growing political one as well. The victories they afford us may not be as large as the victories of the past, but they provide important personal victories that may be small in scope but grand in meaning.
By Chef Elizabeth Mikesell
On June 7, 2015, my Pima Community College culinary education students and I were invited to be guest chefs at the Desert Rain Café, in Sells, AZ. This fun and exciting project used native desert foods in every course developed with my students, one of whom is Tohono O’odham. Local author Janet Taylor helped us prepare and serve the meal. Our menu’s first course was blue corn sopes and a multi-layered tepary bean salad including avocado, corn, hearts of palm, microgreens, fresh cilantro with chipotle lime salad dressing. Next, we made H’aal squash soup with jalapeño chimichurri, a South American sauce now featured in new Southwestern cuisine. The third course was marinated mesquite smoked chicken on a bed of nopales in red chile sauce, cilantro rice and mesquite flour bruschetta with cholla bud salsa. We offered prickly pear meringue pie sweetened with agave nectar and saguaro syrup for dessert.
Having instructed in Pima Community College’s Culinary Arts program for over 10 years, I’m familiar with all the standard practices—what students need to know to survive in the restaurant industry, to open a bakery, or just to ensure they (not to mention their friends and their family!) will eat good food for the rest of their lives. But over that time, I have also come to see how necessary it is for my students to understand their local food system. For that reason, experiences like the one we had at the Desert Rain Café—where, through food, my students can connect with the history and heritage of this area—are my favorite part of being a chef.
The Pima County Food Alliance wants YOU!
We’re now accepting applications for our Leadership Council, a roughly 16-member body that meets monthly to work on projects related to food and food policy in Pima County. Leadership Council members commit to a two-year term with a roughly 10-hour commitment per month. We’re looking for a range of skills and interests, from grant writing to project management and event coordination. Think you’d be a good fit? Fill out the application and submit to email@example.com by May 4.
You’ve heard from us before on the City of Tucson’s proposed urban ag zoning code changes. Last time around, we were mostly supportive, but had a few lingering concerns. A specific one was around the number of small animals allowed… More generally, we wondered about the quantity of red tape being required even to do the things the City said it wanted to support. As an example, you could have an urban farm or a farmer’s market, but only if you jumped through many hoops…
We worked hard with the City over the summer to address those concerns. We sat down with them through many a meeting and dug into the nitty gritty, asking questions like “What is a farmers’ market? Where should they be allowed to operate and during what hours?” All that work is now included in the latest draft. Overall, the changes look very positive. As an example, the process for opening a farmers’ market is significantly streamlined, and less limited in their hours of operation. And when it comes to animals, there’s now a system of “animal units,” which allows more animals to be kept on larger lot sizes, and across the board. This, though slightly more complicated, makes a lot more sense than the universal limit they were proposing last time around: 12 hens.
If you want to dig deeper into the changes, we suggest looking at the City’s Sustainable Zoning Code Project Page. In particular, check out the Comparison Sheet, which shows you side by side how the latest version differs from both the last version and the current regs.