Saturday, August 16, 2014

Victory Gardens -- Can all you can!

When I was in grade school in New Orleans, I spent a lot of time at my grandfather's house. On many evenings, his neighbor, an amateur chef whom he also dated for many years, came over to cook for us. Mike (her given name was Ruby) had lived through the Great Depression, and though she didn't often prepare the cream cheese and olive sandwiches her mother had made from the family rations, I knew about them.

By the time I was a teenager, I'd learned about the Depression and the Dust Bowl, the Stock Market Crash of 1929. I was aware of how hungry I might have been had I grown up just half a century earlier.

It wasn't until last month when I visited the Rosie the Riveter Visitor Center in Richmond, CA that I learned in detail about Victory Gardens, grown in abundance in the United States between WWI and WWII. The goal was to alleviate pressure on the public food stores. Gardening helped feed families and boosted morale for civilians on the home front. In the winter, excess food from VG's was canned and shipped to the troops.

To help get the gardens started, the government sometimes provided seeds, soil, water and expertise. Food was grown in public parks, backyards, on school grounds, and even in a crater in London.

The refrain "Can All you Can" emerged around 1941 here in the U.S.
In London, you heard things like "Plant more in '44!"

At peak production, Americans boasted 20 million gardens, and at that time VG's were responsible for over 40 percent of the vegetables consumed here. This was good for the government and even better for citizens' health; VG's were responsible for bringing nutrient-packed Swiss chard and kohlrabi into the American diet.

Here's what your standard backyard VG looked like, front to back:

2 rows potatoes
2 rows carrots
2 rows cucumbers
2 rows onions
2 rows lettuce
3 tomato plants

Needless to say, VG's fell out of favor when folks had more money in their pockets, but you'll notice a community garden here and there. With the 60's came a heightened fear (and rightfully so) of pesticide use. And people began planting anew in their own backyards.

I'm still investigating whether all these six items will grow outdoors in the Texas heat. It's a good experiment since my first baby is due six months from now!

I'll keep you posted. It'll be some time before I have access to enough of my own dirt.

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