“Imagine,” chef, cookbook author and local food activist Deborah Madison mused recently, “if our government asked us to respond to the crisis of global warming, diminishing oil and poor health … by planting vegetable gardens.”
Those who lived in the United States and Great Britain during World War II and experienced the food rationing of the 1940s can do more than imagine; they can remember. As part of the war effort, every civilian was encouraged to turn their land and lawns over literally to growing food for themselves and for the troops. The millions of yards, vacant lots and converted lawns and flower beds at community centers, school playgrounds and places of worship were called “victory gardens” and were, for many years, a primary source of the fruits, vegetables, nuts and legumes that were difficult to produce during wartime due to reduced manpower and gasoline rationing.
Neighbors shared and swapped produce with neighbors, summer’s bounty was canned or “put by” for winter eating, and many Americans found themselves eating locally in a way not seen since their forefathers immigrated to this country.
If the idea of eating local food, and its related topics (concerns over food availability, affordability, and the high environmental and monetary costs of transporting food over great distances) sound familiar, it’s probably because these issues have been in the news for the last few years. For many MOTHER EARTH NEWS readers and a growing collection of authors, food activists and garden experts, fall is the time of year to begin turning over our lawns again, in search of economic, environmental and physical health.
Community activist and author Heather Flores released her book Food Not Lawns: How To Turn Your Yard Into a Garden and Your Neighborhood Into a Community a couple of years ago. It was a radical call for America’s urban dwellers to turn their manicured lawns and backyards into food-producing gardens to benefit not just the dweller but their community as a whole. If the idea seemed a bit revolutionary at the time the book debuted, it now appears to be resonating with Americans in a way not seen since WWII.