Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Victory gardening

Every Wednesday morning before work I wake up early to help the Snell family set up for the Portland Farmers' Market in Monument Square. In return for this work, we receive plants to populate our fire escape garden (shh, don't tell the fire marshall), and produce later in the year. Besides being extra-fresh and delicious, this payment is turning out to be more lucrative than tech stock options.

According to anecdotal accounts from the market's farmers, this is turning out to be a banner year for vegetable and herb plant sales. As food prices rise, it looks as though more and more people are taking up gardening to raise their own calories this summer.

In the San Francisco Chronicle, columnist Philip S. Wenz calls for a revival of WWII-era Victory Gardens to neutralize rising food prices:
"During the Second World War, which began while America was still recovering from the Great Depression, both money and the things that money could buy were scarce. Necessities such as food and fuel for heating and transportation were rationed at home in order to supply our soldiers abroad.

The American people and their government responded to the shortages by starting the ambitious Victory Garden program, which encouraged citizens to grow vegetables. Almost overnight, millions of gardens were cultivated in private yards, schoolyards and parks across the nation...

The results were spectacular. Victory Gardens yielded as much as 40 percent of the country's nonmilitary produce."
Of course, those victory gardeners were just coming out of a decade of Depression, and they had a lot more experience in self-sufficiency than today's Americans. We may be at war today, but instead of asking us to conserve resources and grow our food, our government now asks us to go shopping, and instead of a decade's worth of experience in frugality, we're coming out of a decade of morbid obesity. In other words, it's way too soon to tell whether today's gardeners will earn the "victory" label - but at least we can enjoy some better food and more time outdoors.

Image: San Francisco victory garden, from the Chronicle's files.


Corey Templeton said...

What a small world, I used to live 2 houses down from Snells in Bar Mills and went to school/am friends with their son. Nice folk. I wish I had a fire escape to turn into a garden.

C Neal said...

You should look for an empty patch of ground somewhere to plant a box-garden. I'd recommend someplace out-of-the way so that you won't be raided by poachers.

If you're just growing herbs, you could probably plant them along the sidewalk without attracting too much notice.

In either case, I'd recommend using a box to separate your plants from the city's soil, which usually has a lot of lead and other crap in it (thanks in part to fifty years' use of leaded gasoline, which has permanently poisoned a lot of roadside soils).

Karen said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Karen said...

Perhaps it's worth posting a plug here for Community Gardens programs - I'm always surprised by the number of people I meet who are totally uninformed of this option. Surely the fine town of Portland, Maine has a community garden or two? Its west coast counterpart boasts 24 of them - 23, I suppose, since the largest one was tilled under in favor of more student housing at our alma mater. (A sad and controversial move that I support Reed's right and need to undertake). Don't have the statistics on this, but I bet the majority of large U.S. cities - especially the ones in which readers of this blog are inclined to live - have a community gardens program, in which citizens can annually rent a plot of ground (mine's 10 x 15 feet) and all the water one cares to use for a nominal fee. Even here in the rent-inflated town of Santa Barbara, I pay only $53 for a year's worth of dirt under my fingernails. A small price to pay for cheap food, abundant lessons in patience, failure, and innovation, and sharing in an environment that actually encourages community interactions - added perk that said interactions are with the lot of eccentrics that tend to be the gardens' denizens.