Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Grow Your Own

WWII Victory Garden poster, 1945

Last year we noticed a surge of interest in home grown vegetables among our customers.  We were intrigued by the number of people that came by our market booth looking for vegetable plant starts- both seasoned gardeners wanting to add to their home started seedlings, or first-time gardeners wanting to try growing some of their own food for a change.  All ages, backgrounds, economic levels and hairstyles- everyone wanted home grown veggies on their table.

It seemed to be a combination of tightening economic times and the wave of food scares that happened last year- remember the tainted spinach, the salmonella tomatoes?  Every time one of those industrial food system bombs went off, more people showed up on our doorstep, looking to bypass the system altogether and get their food straight from their own gardens.

Some people had read Michael Pollen's recent books, The Omnivore's Dilemma and In Defense of Food, or the wonderful and inspiring Animal, Vegetable, Mineral by Barbara Kingsolver, and were determined to change how they ate, and where their food came from. (If you haven't read these books, I highly recommend them all.)

Whatever their reason for wanting to grow edible stuff,  it was great fun for us to help so many people through their first food-growing experiences, and to talk to such a number of enthusiastic gardeners about the joys and challenges of growing food wherever they were from, but especially here on the coast.  ( I think we need to start a 'Coastal Tomato and Basil Growers Support Group.  Or maybe it should be grief counseling!) 

WWI Department of Agriculture poster

This year the swell of interest in home-grown produce is becoming an enormous wave.  From people advocating for a Farmer in the White House to seed companies running out of their most popular varieties due to overwhelming demand from customers, this year the Victory Garden is really back in style.  I've read where some media people are trying to dub this new wave of home vegetable growing 'Recession Gardens', but I find that a rather gloomy name for something so positive.  It also implies that the only time anyone would want to grow their own food is during hard economic times.  I'm sure that's true for some, but I hope many in this new generation of gardeners learning to rotate their crops and thin their carrots will stick with it long after the global economy has rebounded.  I'm pretty confident that once a person experiences what vegetables should taste like, and the has the satisfaction of eating food they've grown themselves, it will be hard to go back to tasteless supermarket veggies and fruits.

I still like the name Victory Gardens- not just because I love the great poster art that was produced in support of the concept during both WWI and WWII, but because of what the gardens did for individuals and communities.  They truly  helped people achieve victory over deprivation and hardship.  The statistic most often quoted says that during WWII, forty percent of the food supply in the United States came from home gardens.  Forty Percent!  If we today cannot accomplish even a fraction of what our parents and grandparents (and great-grandparents, for some) did during the last Great Depression and World Wars, then we really should hang our heads in shame.  There is also no reason why we can't have a damn good time while we're at it too- share seeds and plants with friends and neighbors, swap recipes, trade produce, get your kids involved, try making jam, sing while you weed, whatever it takes. Growing food can be fun.

WWII Department of Agriculture poster

If you can't grow your own, make your way to your nearest farmer's market- there are thousands of them now all across the country, and those that are seasonal will be starting up soon.  We here on the North Coast are blessed with three- the wonderful and fun Manzanita Farmer's Market, the huge and yet still enjoyable Astoria Sunday Market, and the new kid on the block, back for their second year of fantastic edibles, the Cannon Beach Farmer's Market.  There are great farmers and local food producers at all of them, and I encourage everyone to try and shop truly locally this season, and make sure at least some of the food you eat is produced here on the North Coast.  (Or near your own community, wherever that may be.)

On a final note, I am so happy to see that poster art of the sort that came from the Works Progress Administration (WPA) during the first Great Depression is alive and well. Recently,  ReadyMade Magazine asked five artists to reimagine the populist poster art of that era; you can read the article here.  The one created by Christopher Silas Neal deserves to be displayed in every kitchen, garden mud room, farmer's market and supermarket across the country, not just because it is a great image, but because of the sentiment behind it:

 " Solving the world's energy and food problems would do a great deal to strengthen the global economy, prevent disease, and reverse the effects of climate change.  The original Victory Garden program was designed to ease pressure on the public agriculture supply and support the war effort by encouraging families to grow their own food.  I wanted to expand this idea to the more broader concept of buying and eating local food."

You can download a free copy of the poster here.  Check out the others in the series here, they are all great.  We know our bicycle-mad friends over at the Blue Scorcher Bakery will especially like the bike one.

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