The Survival Garden

The Survival Garden

Victory gardens came about during World War II, following an idea by George Washington Carver. In March 1917, Charles Lathrop Pack organized the US National War Garden Commission and launched the war garden campaign. To support the home garden effort, a United States School Garden Army was launched through the Bureau of Education. Again in World War II, victory gardens played a part.

I have been thinking of these gardens since reading a short piece in the Highlands Current last week, about Chevron trying to sell its old industrial property in Glenham. The article mentioned that the drop in oil prices could be a reason for the sale. I had been planning a series of posts laying out our energy situation, since our collective “energy I.Q” here in the United States is so low, and this would be a good way to jump into it with a local connection.

But it also reminded me of that other local big piece of property, the old Beacon Prison. I had been involved some years ago into trying to get that back to farmland and maker space. Given the world situation, I thought it might be a good idea for the City of Beacon to ask the State for the right of a  temporary eminent domain so we could immediately put in an emergency crop of root vegetables. I spoke to a farmer and a farm administrator over the weekend about the feasibility of this plan, including the City designating emergency funds for a tractor or two, fencing, and seed. More about that in another post.

A brief synopsis of why I believe this will be important, even crucial, to our well-being. The world economy is in the process of being decimated by the response to the coronavirus. Many of our jobs in the modern era are decidedly non-essential. After who knows how many months of lockdown, a great deal of those jobs will never come back. The rebuilding process, even to a 1917 level, will be long and difficult.

At some point, rationing may come into play. On March 1, 1943, canned fruits and vegetables were rationed here in the U.S. Having a local supply of vegetables to supplement distributed canned goods will be of great value, especially if the money system is eventually compromised.It can also be a great morale booster. And in times of social distancing, being outdoors and far enough apart can help build and sustain community cohesion.

In December 1941, shortly after the United States entered World War II, Agriculture Secretary Claude Wickard began promoting Victory Gardens. The Department of Agriculture produced pamphlets to guide urban and suburban gardeners, magazines and newspapers published helpful articles, and patriotic posters urged participation.

There will be plenty of farm hands available, as many members of the community are already being laid off in these early days. While the City may take longer to react, I would urge you to tear up your lawn this spring and plant a garden.

I think it would be a good thing to order seed NOW, and rip up your lawn ASAP. Form a neighborhood committee–for various reasons, you don’t want to be the only one on the block with a cornucopia in your front yard.  During WWII, pamphlets were the key communication for these gardens. We currently have the Internet, and there has been a resurgence of interest in local farming in the last decade or two, so there are many valuable resources.

We might ponder what to call these new gardens. “Victory” over a microparasite is never a complete thing. Maybe Survival Garden? Don’t say Virus Garden. The New World Garden? I don’t know. Ideas welcome.



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