What A Victory Garden Can Be
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.