American Victory Gardens – A Brief History of Food and Freedom

Starting a garden is a fitting way to show your patriotism this Fourth of July. That’s right, fresh grown veggies and fruits are the very reason Cobb Salads and apple pies are so American. And, it just so happens, planting food for freedom is part of our nation’s history.

Victory, Garden Style

During the first half of the twentieth century, as our nation was entangled in World Wars I and II, growing fruits, vegetables and herbs was actually a part of the war effort. These civilian contributions came to be known as Victory Gardens.

By producing food locally, communities were able to subsist on their own harvests while easing demand on the national food supply. Plots ranged from small raised bed gardening on urban rooftops, to large suburban yards and rural fields. According to The National WWII Museum archives, at the height of the Victory Garden during World War II, there were more than 20 million individual plots operating across the USA. Now that’s what we call patriotic produce!

Make your victory garden even more patriotic by lining beds with American flags.

Make your victory garden even more patriotic by lining beds with American flags.

Local Food Fuels Freedom

While container and vegetable gardening obviously did not win the war outright, communities banding together for the common good rightly demonstrates the American Way. While soldiers sacrificed to fight battles thousands of miles away, their families were at home helping to free up food supplies needed overseas while boosting civilian morale.

In peacetime, the same idea of better living and stronger communities rings true. Things have changed a lot since the Victory Gardens of WWII, but the lingering sentiment is just as relevant today. When we have access to our food source and understand its workings, Americans emerge empowered.

Present Day Victory Gardens

Today, nearly 70 years since the Second World War ended, the United States has undergone rapid changes in the way our food is produced, packaged and sold. While supply shortages are no longer a concern as a direct result of war, our country faces new struggles tied to sustenance. As evidenced by childhood and adolescent obesity rates that loom higher than ever (see: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention), many Americans have gone astray when it comes to basic nutrition. When did we lose touch with what we put on our meal table?

Many claim the reason behind this quandary is simple: Limited knowledge of or connection to our food sources. Detachment leads to choices based on what is available and affordable, even if that means frozen and processed goods with little to no real nutrition. But what if we could change all that and put American communities back in touch with agriculture and the food they eat?

Several community-based and grassroots movements are aiming to do just that. The Victory Garden Initiative is one such effort, citing in their mission statement that, “When everyone is a farmer, we will have a socially and environmentally just food system.” Kind of like farming for freedom.

Food For Thought this 4th of July

Working to ensure there is fresh and wholesome meals on the table at breakfast, lunch and dinner is about as American as it gets. And on no day is this more apparent than July 4th. This summer, though, rather than relying fully on big box stores for mealtime ingredients, show your local farmers a little love. Or, better yet, grow your own!

To get started on a small scale, raised bed gardening in cedar or redwood is a great way to go. It works anywhere, from the back yard to a downtown rooftop. Also, check out some tips tied to the modern-day Victory Garden, courtesy of the aptly named PBS program.

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