What’s for dinner? Imagine just looking outside your kitchen window. Imagine United States citizens raising forty-percent of our nation’s fresh fruits and vegetables in home gardens. Imagine sixty percent of Americans actively gardening, harvesting over eight million tons of food a year.
No, this isn’t a pipe dream prompted by the current era of high fuel and food costs. “These statistics rang true in 1943 during World War II during the peak of the Victory Garden era,” explains Rose Hayden-Smith, a garden historian and leading expert on this amazing period of self-sufficiency over sixty years ago. “Victory Gardens provided multiple benefits back then, including improving American health and showcasing the nation’s stability and high morale.”
But Hayden-Smith isn’t a historian stuck in the past – she’s an advocate championing bringing the Victory Garden concept back to create a sustainable food system for future generations. Historically, World War II Victory Gardens were kitchen gardens planted to help relieve wartime food shortages. Hayden-Smith defines Victory Gardens more broadly: “A Victory Garden today can be any garden with a purpose that you define personally. That purpose can be a family project to raise food for your household or a community effort to grow produce for a local food bank or whatever else you see as a need.” Such mission based gardening moves our food choices beyond our own personal plate and into the political realm: Make a statement with your garden, vote by example for self-sufficiency and independence.
Why rekindle the Victory Garden concept today? “Victory Gardens showcase patriotism in its truest sense, with each of us taking personal responsibility for doing our individual part to create a healthy, fair and affordable food system,” Hayden-Smith sums up. Additional reasons for recreating Victory Gardens today include:
• Foster skill base among young people
“Victory Gardens provide an inspiring historic model for how we can reintegrate garden-based curriculum into our schools,” Hayden-Smith adds. “Our skills as a nation to be self-sufficient, especially amongst the younger generation, have declined considerably. Additionally, various studies prove that kids who garden eat healthier, which then leads to improved academic performance.” Additionally, a garden can be a base for teaching anything from literature to science to art, all with an appreciation for a healthy food system.
• Build community
Gardening connects people and can bridge cultural barriers. “When we gardened during World War II, we improved our cultural understanding and appreciation of diversity,” explains Hayden-Smith. “Historically, every culture gardens, even though they may be growing different things. During the Victory Garden era, people from diverse backgrounds connected through raising their own food, sharing harvest abundance, food traditions and, most importantly, building community.”
• Support national security
“With rising fuel and food prices, home gardens assure better access for all people, particularly those of lower income levels, to healthy, fresh food,” Harden-Smith concludes.
A University of California Cooperative Extension Advisor and Food and Society Policy Fellow, Hayden-Smith passionately gardens in her own home plot in Ventura, California and blogs on Victory Growers. She focuses on simple, fast recipes that showcase the fresh produce flavors. Her family’s favorite, “Garden Fresh Pasta Sauce,” can be made just with zucchini if tomatoes are not available.
Spaghetti with Zucchini, Tomatoes and Basil
1.5 pounds small or medium zucchini
4-6 Roma tomatoes
2 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
½ cup olive oil
Handful of basil leaves, torn into small pieces
½ cup mixed grated or shredded Parmesan and Romano cheeses
½ cup half-and-half or milk
1 lb. whole grain spaghetti
Salt and pepper
Heat a large pot of water for the pasta. Quarter the zucchini and tomatoes lengthwise, then cut into ½ inch chunks. Warm the olive oil and garlic in a wide skillet. Add the zucchini and tomatoes; season with salt and pepper. Cook gently over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until the zucchini is soft and browned in places (about 15 minutes). Add the half-and-half and cook for 5-10 minutes, stirring frequently. Meanwhile, add salt to the boiling water and cook the pasta. Drain and toss the pasta with the zucchini, tomatoes, cheese and basil. Season to taste.
If tomatoes aren’t available, simply omit. This recipe works will with yellow squash, too!