As green thumbs around the region prepare their spring plantings, this year they’ll have some added company. The National Gardening Association is projecting their numbers to swell by millions. Spurred by economic worries and concerns over food safety and quality, some activists are calling for a return to home and community-based gardening as a means to self-sufficiency, health and sustainability.
It’s a concept that has been promoted by prominent food thinkers like Michael Pollan and even by First Lady Michelle Obama, who recently broke ground on a vegetable garden on the White House’s South Lawn. At the U.S. Department of Agriculture, an organic people’s garden was recently launched with plans for an educational campaign and gardens at USDA facilities around the world.
The current trend has some precedent. The U.S. School Garden Army was launched in 1917 to encourage the nation’s schoolchildren to garden as a means to promote food security. During both world wars, the U.S. government rallied Americans of all ages to cultivate victory gardens to contribute to the nation’s food supply and boost morale. At the program’s peak, in 1943, the nation’s backyards reportedly produced some 40 percent of the country’s vegetables.
Oregon certainly has its share of individuals and organizations aiming to expand the growing field. In Eugene, Victory Gardens For All hopes to plant 10,000 gardens in the area with the stated goal of “victory over global warming.” In Portland, community gardening programs report long wait-lists and rising demand. The Portland Multnomah Food Policy Council has called for a vegetable garden at city hall and even on the rooftop of the Multnomah County Building as a means to raise awareness about the benefits of urban food production. And for those that don’t have the time to plant, businesses like Your Backyard Farmer will do the dirty work for you.
Can the nation’s backyards supply our needs? Has home or community gardening contributed to your household’s food supply? How much time, money, land, and know-how would it take for you to grow a sizable percentage of your yearly intake? Are you a farmer whose produce feeds people on a large-scale? What does that take? Are you threatened by the upsurge in DIY veggies?
- Charlotte Anthony: Founder of Victory Gardens For All
- Rose Hayden-Smith: County Director of the University of California Cooperative Extension Service in Ventura County, Kellogg Food and Society Policy Fellow, and Ph.D. candidate in U.S. History and Public Historical Studies at the University of California at Santa Barbara
- Barb Iverson: Co-owner of Iverson Family Farms
- Susan Webb: Client of Your Backyard Farmer