Let’s take a little field trip back to 1943. Go ahead and hop in those time machines! We’re going to explore the day and age when the world was at war and our food supply was in peril.
American Life in 1943
Think about this: the average family in 1943 was living on $29.00 a week. Food staples were rationed out to families in order to provide for the troops. As you can imagine, fresh fruits and vegetables were in short supply. In order to keep the nation from starvation, the US Government encouraged folks to help out in any way that they could. Propaganda posters popped up in every town urging families to plant ‘Victory Gardens’ to provide their own produce.
War Gardens for Victory
Our Food is Fighting
Sow the Seeds of Victory
Over 20 million American families took up the call for ‘victory.’ They collaborated with friends and neighbors and took control of their own food supply. Even schools got involved in the cause by planting gardens in schoolyards to provide supplemental food for school lunches. The number of canning supplies sold more than quadrupled from 1943 to 1944. Eleanor Roosevelt encouraged her fellow citizens by planting a Victory Garden at the White House in 1943.
The plan was a wild success across the nation. As the National WWII Museum website indicates, “By 1944, Victory Gardens were responsible for producing 40% of all vegetables grown in the United States. More than one million tons of vegetables were grown in Victory Gardens during the war.”
FORTY PERCENT of all vegetables? Holy moly! Can you imagine if we did that today??
After the War
After the war was over in 1945, Victory Gardens began to steadily disappear from backyards and rooftops. Grocery stores popped up across the nation and buying everything we needed from them became commonplace. Commercial foods became more widely available and Americans didn't see any reason to continue growing their own anymore. New and different problems began to crop up in our nation’s food supply…
“The effort of the victory gardeners was directed toward the defeat of an easily identified enemy - the Axis powers. Today, our ‘enemy’—the eco crisis looming on our horizon—is more elusive and complex and is potentially a greater adversary.”
-Phillip Wenz, San Francisco Gate
All right, let’s hop back in those time machines and return to the present day.
Today we live in a very different world than that of the 1940’s. With the opening of commercial grocery stores in towns across the country, the food system has adjusted to meet the ever-increasing demands of the public. Scientists have genetically modified our food in labs. Farmers have resorted to using industrial methods of growing food and raising livestock. Vegetables are now coated with poisons in the fields. Animals are kept in tight quarters where they lead miserable lives. All of this happens even before the food is packed onto a truck, shipped across the country, and stocked in a supermarket. During the long journey almost half of this produce will spoil.
Producing food isn’t what it used to be, and our bodies and wallets are taking the toll.
The next time you’re at the grocery store, take a closer look at the produce section. Do some investigation. Become a food spy. You can even wear a trench coat and a spiffy hat!
Try this: Check out the labels to see where the produce comes from. Consider the massive amount of fuel it takes to get a piece of produce all the way across the country. Consider the nutritional value of food that traveled on the road for two weeks before it arrived at your store. Also consider how hard it is for your local farmer to compete with industrial produce from overseas. Farm workers in other countries are paid pitiful wages and food safety practices are lax, which makes it cheap and easy to produce low quality, sometimes down right poisonous foods.
Food is our energy source; it is what we give our bodies to run on. Food matters. And everything that is done to it before it gets to your mouth matters too.
So, what can we do about it?
Our agricultural system is a mess, it is enough to make your head spin. There’s a slew of information available to cover the various problems we’re facing. It’s not my goal today to depress you, it’s my goal to give you hope. If you’d like to research on your own, please check out the links at the bottom of this page. I’m here to tell you there is something that we can do about this.
So, keep reading!
Our problems today may be different from that of 1943 but our solutions are in many ways the same. We can take a lesson from the wisdom of the past and go back to our old ways. We can take control of our food: where it comes from, how it’s produced, and what goes into it. This power can be in your hands, and let me tell you, this is the most almighty of powers!
Bring back the victory garden!
Even without food rationing and propaganda posters, people all across the nation are taking notice of the condition of our food supply and choosing to do something about it. Consumers are starting to look more closely at food labels and are refusing to buy things with unpronounceable ingredients. Organic foods are becoming an increasingly common sight on grocery store shelves. Farmer’s markets are popping up in neighborhoods across the country.
Even Michelle Obama got into the act and planted a kitchen garden on the lawn of the White House as part of her campaign to end childhood obesity and advocate healthy eating.
Michele Obama gardens to inspire Americans
The White House Kitchen garden
Our collective outlook on food is changing for the better. Once again, families are taking control of their food, and you can too!
What you have to Gain:
There is nothing, nothing so gratifying as walking out your back door to cut some lettuce, pick a tomato, and dig up some carrots to throw together a salad.
You know that the food was grown in sustainable conditions. You know that the laborer was treated fairly. You know you're not eating poison in the form of pesticides and herbicides. You know that it took zero energy resources (no gas and no oil are used in transport) to get your food to your plate. Unless of course you're counting the energy you spent walking into your backyard!
More Money for your Pockets
Skyrocketing food costs are due in part to the increase in gas and oil prices. The vast majority of our food isn't even coming from within our states, and all that food has to get to your store somehow. The food you eat is often shipped from farms and factories all over the country, sometimes even all over the world! New studies show that more than 40% of food is thrown away before it even gets to the consumer, much of that because of spoilage during transit.
Local food advocate Joel Salatin writes on the subject, “The average morsel of food sees more of America than the farmer who grows it, traveling fifteen hundred miles from field to fork."
Growing your own food on your property cuts out the middleman. You can take pride in knowing that very little food is wasted when you grow it yourself. You also don't have to pay the farmer, the truck driver, the gas company, the cashier, the produce manager, or any one else. You only pay yourself, and you get paid in a glorious bounty of food…best paycheck ever!
Control your own destiny
Growing your own food makes you feel powerful in a world where lack of control is commonplace. Knowing that the food you’re eating is safe and full of nutrition is priceless. Don’t get lost in the shuffle and leave your fate in the hands of others. You can pull yourself up by your bootstraps and take control! Families in the 1940’s made an effort to provide for themselves, and you can too!
Be Prepared… (Cue singing hyenas and scar faced lions)
Another reason to grow your own food is for preparedness. Food is a necessary resource, and we can't live without it. In times of need, be it an emergency, or getting laid off from work, it’s important to know that your family can still eat. Having the knowledge and ability to grow food will never let you down. You'll never find yourself saying, 'Dang! What a useless skill!’ Unfortunately, the knowledge and skills for food production are getting lost more and more as each year passes.
Educate the Youngins’
If you talk to many children these days, you'll find that they’re quite confused about foods that don’t come in boxes and bags. Many of them can’t tell you that a carrot is the root of a plant, or that mashed potatoes are made with a vegetable that's grown underground.
If you plant your own victory garden, this can be your way of showing your food independence, but you can also teach your kids valuable lessons.
This next generation is going to have to bear the burden of our current food system. Change starts with these kids, and raising them well is the best thing you can do for our future. Your kids crave knowledge; they want to learn, so teach them! Allow them to form a connection between the earth and their plates. Working together in the garden can strengthen your family culture. Cook together, eat together, and you will grow together.
This clip from Jaime Oliver’s Food Revolution documents this issue perfectly. I can only hope this is a very extreme example of kids’ food knowledge.
You can do it too!
You don’t need to be a farmer to grow a victory garden, and it’s okay if you don’t live on seven acres in the country. You too can grow a victory garden with just a little creativity and persistence. For city dwellers, you'll need to think outside the box…or inside the box, rather.
You can grow a lot of food in little containers- boxes, cartons, buckets, bags, even in old tires—the sky’s the limit! My fiancée and I live in the heart of the city and we still manage to keep chickens and a garden.
Think about how helpful it would be if you could grow even just one of the plants you regularly eat. You could cut that right out of your grocery bill, and I guarantee it will taste much better than store bought. To read more about growing in small spaces, check out the link on city gardening at the bottom of this article.
No Garden? No Problem!
If growing your own food is an absolute impossibility for you, but you still want to do something to make a difference, there are still several things that you can do. Consider buying your produce from a farmer’s market, or a CSA (community supported agriculture) instead of from the grocery store. This food is not only cheaper, it almost always comes from a local farm, and you have the opportunity to talk to the farmer first hand!
I’m all about putting my money directly into the farmer’s hand for the food they grow, rather than paying several companies in between farm and table. If your farmer’s market isn’t an option, start making calls to your local grocery store and ask them to carry more produce from local farms. If they are eager to keep you as a customer, they will do what it takes to make you happy.
I truly believe that every action made to improve our food system makes a difference. Even if that action is simply shopping at the farmer’s market once a month or starting an herb garden on your windowsill, every little bit of change helps. These things add up, and before you know it, you may start a food revolution in your own neighborhood. You can change the world; all you have to do is take that first step.
Be a superhero, grow a garden!
Sowing for victory in this day and age has a different connotation than it did in the 1940's. Growing your own food may not help in the war effort, but it will help save the environment, strengthen family bonds, save money, and increase your independence.
The time is now, so get out there! Sow some seeds! Sow for independence! Sow for knowledge! Sow for victory!
References for further education:
On Victory Gardens:
National WWII Museum
Victory Garden Foundation
Living History Farm
Bring Back the Victory Garden
On Gardening and local agriculture:
Find a CSA near you:
Find your local farmer’s market:
Small Space, Low Skill Gardening
Michelle Obama’s Kitchen Garden
Gardening Basics for Beginners
Vegetable Gardening for Beginners
On the condition of food:
Milk: America’s Health Problem
Center for Ecoliteracy
The Food Trust: