Victory Gardens Are Here Again!
"Victory gardening" is an old-fashioned term for what many people are undertaking these days--garden for self-sufficiency and sustainability. The phrase dates all the way back to the 1600s, when a British writer encouraged his fellow citizens to garden to protect themselves from hunger in the face of war. In the early 1900s, the term was embraced in the United States at the end of WWI, when "liberty" or "war gardens" became "victory gardens" after we won the conflict. A couple of decades later found millions of Americans--including children and teens--gardening during the Second World War. Because this was long before YouTube.com and Twitter helped spread ideas, government agencies encouraged gardening (together with recycling, fuel conservation, composting and canning) through colorful poster campaigns. Note that it was at this point--the mid-century mark--that the "victory garden" phrase took deep root in American culture. Later in the twentieth century, PBS started a popular, long-running show called "The Victory Garden," which is still on television.
Today, whether they garden out of need or simply to be good environmental stewards, many young people are rediscovering that fresh food--be it veggies or eggs--simply taste better. That's a fact that Mrs. Obama has decided to emphasize in connecting her First Garden at the White House with her new Let's Move initiative, designed to promote healthy lifestyles for young people.
With spring on the horizon in many parts of the country, now is a great time to start thinking about planting a garden at your house. If this is your first time to raise vegetables, you've got all kinds of options. If you live in an apartment, you can grow tomatoes in pots or hanging planters on your patio. Or, if you've got a bit more space at home or in a community garden plot, you can plant a pizza garden (oregano, tomatoes, basil, onions, and garlic), a Peter Rabbit-themed garden (mint, parsley, thyme, radishes and lettuce) to delight your younger siblings, or even a New Orleans Saints-themed garden (okra, tomatoes, peppers, squash, scallions). The possibilities are endless and limited only by your imagination and creativity. (And, yes, chickens can be a part of your overall plan! The manure makes wonderful organic fertilizer.)
Whichever option you choose for your garden--and whatever you choose to call it (be it kitchen garden, potager, dinner garden, victory garden), my best advice is for you to start small and let your garden grow as you develop and hone skills over time. Gardening is a life skill, which means you won't learn everything overnight. Keeping a calendar, blog or notebook of your progress is a marvelous learning tool, something that you can refer back to year after year to chart your progress and note lessons you've learned about your particular garden. I also suggest that you work with your family to identify successful gardeners in your neighborhood who can tell you which plants and plant varieties will grow best where you live. Farmers at your weekly market (if you're lucky enough to have one!) can be helpful. Your local county extension office can be a big help, too.
Finally, if you're interested in learning more about the role of victory gardens in WWII, I'd recommend that you locate a copy of Lee Kochendorfer's book, "The Victory Garden" (Yearling, 2003). In it, the author tells an engaging fictional story about an 11 year-old girl from Kansas who grows, you guessed it, a victory garden of her own.