Anywhere there is dirt, we should be growing food. Twenty million Americans answered the call to plant Victory Gardens during World War II, producing 41 percent of the fruit and vegetables consumed then. Could we do that again, please?
When First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt planted a vegetable garden on the White House grounds, the U.S. Department of Agriculture was not initially keen on her public example of homegrown food. The USDA feared a wide-scale gardening crusade would hurt industrial agriculture.
Fortunately, Mrs. Roosevelt and the nation plowed up their flowerbeds and lawns anyway, planting seeds anywhere they would sprout. Cities, schools and other public entities got in on the gardening craze. Presumably under pressure, the USDA eventually endorsed Victory Gardens and provided training materials to get people started.
Some say it is cruel to ask people to grow food as Americans did during the first two world wars. Literature from those eras, however, indicates people felt good about contributing, saved money, got healthier and enjoyed gardening with their families and communities.
We can certainly attest to all those rewards here. Also, we are assured our food is truly organic.
Sadly, the Victory Garden movement faded away after 1945. When prosperity returned, so did big green lawns. Gardens (and clotheslines) become symbols of poverty to many. We consider them, however, to embody abundance, fitness and good stewardship.
The nation’s four-year-old Food Stamp Program disappeared in 1943 when “the conditions that brought the program into being—unmarketable food surpluses and widespread unemployment—no longer existed,” according to the USDA, which administers the program.
President John F. Kennedy brought back the Food Stamp Program in 1961, although, unlike today, recipients bought the stamps. Stamps came in two colors: orange for any food product and blue for surplus. For every dollar of orange stamps bought, the buyer received 50 cents of blue stamps for free to exchange for agricultural surplus items, such as milk, eggs or cheese.
The USDA maintained that stamps should continue to be sold so as not to undermine the dignity of recipients. In 1977, Congress approved removing the requirement that stamps be purchased. The change flustered many onlookers who had supported the program as a means to help the poor help themselves, not as a direct government handout.
Today, 48 million Americans (1 in 6 people, including illegal immigrants) receive food stamp benefits. Now that the United States has created a nation of dependents, plans are in the works to cut millions of recipients from the benefit rolls. Then, watch what happens.
If the recent Electronic Benefits Transfer and ensuing grocery-shopping frenzy at Walmart reveals how people will react to the prospect of life without food stamps, we are in trouble.
I don’t know what people were thinking when they filled shopping carts to overflowing in two Louisiana Walmart stores last week, but I suspect some feared the EBT glitch might have been the end of the program. Stockpiling food, however, is not a sustainable solution. Growing food is.
I wonder how millions of people are being counseled to prepare for reduced or discontinued benefits. Other social aid programs, including Social Security, are also slated to be scaled back.
Is home gardening ever encouraged as a way to offset the escalating cost of basically everything?
Relearning old skills
One of my favorite gardening guides is a World War II booklet International Harvester Company sold for 10 cents each that covers every phase of gardening from testing seeds to building root cellars.
“Get at the garden in time. Make a plan for it. Hang it on the wall. Talk about it … Make up your mind when you will plant the different things—then plant them,” the booklet advises.
Now, here’s the part I especially like— “Take care of it—it won’t take care of itself. Anything worth having is worth working for. What isn’t worth working for isn’t worth anything.” (I can vividly recall my grandmother saying just such things.)
I found the 80-page booklet among some old cookbooks at a yard sale. It had obviously been referenced many times since 1943, and even has a carefully taped front cover. The booklet warns, “Grow Your Living. It May Not Be Available for You to Buy.”
Food Stamp Budget Woes
Last month, the U.S. government announced a $4 billion food stamp budget cut that will affect future applicants and everyone enrolled now. An estimated 4 million people will be cut from the program during 2014. It is estimated that at least 1 to 3 million recipients will be cut each year until 2023.
FoodStamps.org posted some reconstruction recommendations, which includes discontinuing benefits to illegal immigrants. Proposed agricultural solutions include farmers markets, donations and co-ops where recipients work for their food. FoodStamps.org says, however, that these solutions “seem barbaric to some progressives and others.”
A quick online search revealed little practical preparation ideas for recipients to wean themselves from the program. FoodStamps.org suggests that single, able-bodied participants find work, become vegan or create a sustainable and self-reliant food lifestyle.
Another option is to combine vegetables with meat, grains, dairy, or other foods to make them last longer throughout the week.
The site goes on to recommend ways to make vegetables more interesting, especially for children, by smothering them in dips and sauces. Or, coat celery sticks with peanut butter and sprinkle with raisins. Get the family involved in meal planning and trade recipes with Facebook friends.
Some of this seems elementary to me, but is actually more advice than I found on the USDA’s site. To its credit, FoodStamps.org also posted a short blog about gardening as a viable solution to the current food crisis. The food stamp program now allows recipients to buy seeds. Finally — a long-term idea for self-reliance.
Growing food again
Today, as food prices soar and more people are unable to feed their households, it is time to relearn gar-
dening skills. As they did in Cuba when their economy collapsed, we should be planting food anywhere we can – on rooftops, in window boxes, along the sidewalk, next to the garage – anywhere there is dirt.
Even without soil, a couple big jars of sprouts continually growing on the kitchen counter are an excellent source of nutrition.
Modern gardening experts such as Marjory Wildcraft, Rick Austin and John Jeavons say we don’t need to plow up the whole back 40 to feed ourselves. Marjory laughs how she made the mistake of tilling an entire acre for her first garden and ended up with an acre of weeds. Instead, she says now, start small – and keep growing.
Let’s bring back Victory Gardens.