"It would be great to have a farmer-in-chief”
The ever worsening economy also deserves some credit as a source of inspiration. Victory against inflation may just be won at home -- actually the backyard.(GW)
Digging their way out of recession
February 26, 2009
Allotments by any other name
IN 1943 Eleanor Roosevelt encouraged a return to the “victory gardens” that had become popular during the first world war, when the country faced food shortages. Mrs Roosevelt planted a garden at the White House; some 20m Americans followed her lead, and by the end of the war grew 40% of the nation’s vegetables.
Now a grassroots movement wants Barack Obama to plant another White House victory garden. The new secretary of agriculture, Tom Vilsack, announced recently that his department would create “The People’s Garden” out of a paved area outside their building. And he won’t stop there. Mr Vilsack wants there to be a community garden at each of the department’s offices around the world.
Margaret Lloyd, a researcher on victory gardens at the University of California at Davis, finds many reasons for this new national trend. The recession is one; but people are also worried about food safety, want to eat more healthily, and are bothered about climate change. This may be a way to make a difference.
If Washington needs further inspiration it might examine the movement in Bill Clinton’s former stamping-ground. Although Arkansas is an agricultural state, urban gardening has not always been popular. But now victory gardens are springing up in backyards, school grounds and even on front lawns in posh neighbourhoods. Many gardeners are focusing on “heirloom” plants—rare varieties from earlier times that do not appeal to agribusiness.
Classes are being offered on canning vegetables and raising chickens. The Station, a new grocery store about to open in Little Rock, will sell primarily local foods. Heifer International, a non-profit group that hopes to fight world hunger and poverty through self-reliance and sustainability, will host a conference in the city later this year to encourage the use of local produce in school cafeterias.
The two-acre Dunbar Community Garden in Little Rock has served as a model for several years. More than 600 students a month have learned about gardening there. The students can take these lessons home and recreate them in their own back yards. The garden, attached to an elementary and middle school, allows inner-city students to taste fresh-grown fruit and vegetables, sometimes for the first time in their lives. Produce grown in the summer months is sold to local restaurants.
Perhaps the most positive aspect of the garden movement comes from ventures like the Backyard Garden Project, which helps inner-city families start gardens for self-sufficiency. Ms Lloyd says that the most important promoter of projects like those in Little Rock should be Mr Obama. “It would be great to have a farmer-in-chief,” says Ms Lloyd. “It would set in motion something we as Americans can do in these tough times.”