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Gardening is Good for the Soul

1/8/2009 12:06:00 AM

Tags: gardens, gardening, history, community, vegetables

War Garden Poster

It might be that I grew up in a seed-producing family, or that I had the privilege of biting into North Dakota grown tomatoes right from the field … still warm from the sun. It might also be that the miracle of drawing food from the earth, using little more than a tiny seed and a bit of effort, captivated me from the very beginning. Perhaps I am genetically predisposed to raise a crop because my ancestors, and theirs, in turn, did just that. In any case, I discovered at a very young age that vegetable gardening is good for the soul.

Many eloquent essays have been written on the healing powers the act of gardening possesses; urban planners in New York City learned that community gardens were not worthless areas of idyllic pastoral tranquility, but the glue that bonded people of different experience, ethnicity and social stratum into an amalgam of healthy urban culture. They learned the lesson the hard way with the DOME garden project on west 84th street. Community gardening, minimizes differences and heals hurts. Community gardening is good for the soul.

During the First World War, the National War Garden Commission was formed in the United States; its mission was to promote gardening, ostensibly as an act of patriotism. The American workforce was engaged in producing materiel; farmers were headed off to active duty by the thousands. Armies needed to be fed, but every bit as important, those left behind needed to be fed … and they needed to know they were doing their part. The War Garden program brought the most likely and unlikely of people together. They collectively took up the cause and planted gardens in unlikely and likely War Gardens Victoriousplaces. The 1918 effort produced more than $500-million in homegrown food.  No doubt War Gardening did much to keep the country marching on, but it also brought people together and helped heal their suffering souls.

During the Great Depression, gardening again became a matter of life for many folks. Unemployed and unappreciated souls found physical and psychological solace in stirring the soil and nurturing their own nourishment from the earth. Early psychologists reported that humans thrived when there was a firm connection between culture and nature … they prescribed gardening as therapy for malaise. Vegetable gardening was good for depression-era souls.

The Second World War helped bring about an end to the Great Depression; the Victory Garden served as a rallying cry for those left at home. Like the War Gardens before them, Victory Gardens produced a phenomenal amount of food. Victory Gardening was good for the soul, and the country, in spite of the fact that it lacked economies of scale.

Today’s economic climate offers an excellent excuse to get gardening once again; it’s already beginning to happen in a somewhat organized fashion. The new program … a grass-roots program at that … is called Freedom Gardening. Freedom Gardens bring the concept of Victory Gardens into the 21st century and take it one paradigm further by suggesting that we grow our own food no matter what the economic climate is. GRIT blogger Paul Gardner turned me on to this movement. I hope he will post a blog about how the concept developed and got off the ground.

1919 Oscar Will catalog back cover: Feed the world.

In the meantime, grab all the seed catalogs you can. Get all the good information available. And at the very least plant a single-crop garden this year. Take it from me, and millions of others around the globe. Gardening is good for the soul.

1935 Dollar Home Garden Offer from Oscar Will Co.


Hank Will raises hair sheep, heritage cattle and many varieties of open-pollinated corn with his wife, Karen, on their rural Osage County, Kansas farm. His home life is a perfect complement to his professional life as editor in chief at GRIT and Capper's Farmer magazines. Connect with him on .



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