Note: This is the first of two guest posts by LaManda Joy (@theyarden), who will present “Chicago Victory Gardens: Yesterday and Tomorrow” at the Chicago Flower and Garden Show (@chicagoflower) on March 14th at 1pm and at the Chicago Dank-Haus on March 28th at 2pm. For more information and to order tickets, visit theyarden.com.
I’ve always envisioned this blog to be a clearinghouse for stories such as the one that LaManda shares today. If you have a similar account and would like to have it posted here as a guest post (with links back to your own blog), slip a note into comments (moderated) and I’ll contact you. Alternatively, pass me a note on Twitter (@redwhiteandgrew) or on Facebook.
Victory Gardens are igniting a curiosity and passion today. I wonder what stirs each of us to get engaged in gardens that don’t even exist anymore? While we may share similar hooks–love of history, worries about cost or quality of food, environmental concerns, etc.–we all have our unique stories, experiences and dreams that draw us to this fascinating topic. Here’s mine…
I have Greatest Generation parents and grew up on my fair share of WWII stories. My dad was in the Army in Occupied Japan. One of his brothers was an Air Force bomber who took pictures of Normandy Beach out of the bomber doors of his plane. Another was in the Navy in the Pacific Theatre and almost went down with the ship had he not been stuck on shore with Dengue fever. One aunt was a member of WAVES. My mother and the other aunts and wives left behind all did war work. Mother was a Rosie the Riveter, who welded bomber doors. She tells me that they would write notes and put them in the doors that said, “If you’re an American and you find this, God Bless You! If you’re a Jap [a then-popular derogatory slang term], go to HELL!”
My husband and I are avid gardners. In 2006 we bought a “yard with a house attached to it” in Chicago’s 40th ward so we could install a 1,700 square foot organic/heirloom vegetable garden that we like to call The Yarden. Our reasons were culinarily driven; my mother taught me to cook and I have always loved it. She also taught me canning, baking, and other skills that mothers born in 1927 generally passed on to their daughters. I learned to garden from my dad who learned from my great grandfather after he returned from the WWI.
Last fall I was standing in our local butcher shop, Muller Meats on Peterson Avenue, waiting for George to wrap my steaks when I noticed a photo on the wall. It was titled “Peterson Ave Just West of Artesian Looking West in 1942” and was of an enormous WWII-era Victory Garden. The garden was on the land belonging to Mr. Peterson of Peterson Avenue fame. A Swedish tree farmer of some renown at the time, he loaned this swath of land to families in the neighborhood who wanted to do their part for the war effort. If you look closely between the well-manicured rows in the photo at Muller’s, you’ll notice a big “V” and an American flag. George was telling me that the lady behind the shop had died and her grandson had found the picture and given it to the guys in the butcher shop because it had been taken from the roof of the building.
That photo really got me curious about how an urban environment could have supported gardens of the magnitude the Victory Garden propaganda claim existed… some statistics were that 40% of the produce of the US was grown in Victory Gardens beteween 1942-1945. How could that work in heavily urbanized Chicago? My curiosity was piqued.
The final impetus was my husband, Peter, who kindly suggested that perhaps I should research the subject over the winter. Zone 5 winters are long and depressing for gardeners and those they love. Yes, he knows history and gardening are both passions of mine, but I really think he was trying to avoid having to hear about my endless winter seed lists and planting diagrams. But whatever the case, I started researching the topic and quickly became engrossed.
This post is too short to reveal all that I’ve discovered in my research–I’ll share more later. But I can say that what I’ve found has inspired me more about the future of the gardening movement in this country than the past. Chicago was the leader in the National Victory Garden movement which is a really amazing story.
Today we are faced with challenges our parents could never have imagined and we will have to learn to confront them. Who says we’re not set to become the “new” Greatest Generation? Or maybe the Greatest Gardening Generation? While I’m excited to tell the story of Chicago Victory Gardens, I’m more excited to tell the story fifty years from now about how we as gardeners, parents, children and Americans were able to solve our food related problems and leave a better place for those that follow us.
• American Victory Gardens, Past & Present (Google Knol)
• Info. on “War Garden,” a 2008 play in Chicago set in a WWI garden (RW&G archive)