Let's take a journey back to 1943 and explore a time when the world was at war and our food supply was at risk. In that year, the average family was surviving on a meager $29 per week, and essential food items were rationed to support the troops. The scarcity of fresh fruits and vegetables prompted the U.S. Government to encourage citizens to contribute in any way they could. Propaganda posters appeared in every town, urging families to establish "Victory Gardens" and grow their own produce.
The call for action was met with enthusiasm, as over 20 million American families collaborated with friends and neighbors to take control of their food supply. Even schools joined the cause by cultivating gardens on their grounds to supplement school lunches. The sale of canning supplies increased fourfold between 1943 and 1944. To inspire her fellow citizens, Eleanor Roosevelt planted a victory garden at the White House in 1943.
The impact of Victory Gardens was remarkable. According to the National WWII Museum, by 1944, these gardens were responsible for producing 40% of all vegetables grown in the United States. Over 1 million tons of vegetables were grown in Victory Gardens during the war. Just imagine if we could achieve such self-sufficiency today!
After World War II ended in 1945, victory gardens gradually disappeared from backyards and rooftops. The advent of grocery stores made it convenient for people to buy all their food, and the idea of growing one's own produce lost its appeal. However, new challenges began to emerge in our food supply chain.
As Phillip Wenz noted, "The effort of the victory gardeners was directed toward the defeat of an easily identified enemy – the Axis powers. Today, our 'enemy' – the looming eco crisis – is more elusive and complex, potentially posing a greater threat."
Now, let's fast forward to the present day. Our world has changed dramatically since the 1940s. Commercial grocery stores have become ubiquitous, catering to the growing demands of the public. Our food has been genetically modified in laboratories, and industrial farming methods have become the norm. Pesticides coat our vegetables, and animals endure harsh conditions in confined spaces. And all of this occurs before the food even reaches the supermarket, with almost half of the produce spoiling during transportation.
The process of food production has undergone significant transformations, and both our health and finances bear the consequences.
Next time you visit a grocery store, pay closer attention to the produce section. Become a food detective. You can even don a trench coat and a stylish hat for added flair! Take a moment to examine the labels and consider the amount of fuel required to transport a piece of produce across the country. Think about the nutritional value of food that spent two weeks on the road before reaching your store. Also, contemplate the challenges faced by local farmers competing with industrial produce from overseas. In other countries, farm workers receive low wages, and food safety practices may be lax, resulting in the production of low-quality and sometimes harmful foods.
Food is our source of energy, what fuels our bodies. It matters. And everything that happens to it before it reaches our mouths matters too.
Our agricultural system is in disarray, enough to make one's head spin. Various issues plague it, and there's an abundance of information available on these challenges. However, my intention is not to depress you today but to provide hope. If you wish to delve into the topic further, check out the links at the bottom of this page. I'm here to tell you that we can do something about this.
While our problems today may differ from those in 1943, many of the solutions remain the same. We can draw wisdom from the past and return to our roots. We can reclaim control over our food: where it comes from, how it's produced, and what goes into it. This power can be in your hands, and let me tell you, it is a mighty power indeed!
Even without food rationing and propaganda posters, people all over the country are becoming aware of the state of our food supply and taking action. Consumers are scrutinizing food labels and avoiding products with unpronounceable ingredients. Organic foods are increasingly available in grocery stores, and farmer's markets are sprouting up in communities nationwide.
Even Michelle Obama joined the movement by planting a kitchen garden on the White House lawn as part of her campaign to combat childhood obesity and promote healthy eating. She became the first First Lady since Eleanor Roosevelt in 1943 to establish a garden at the White House. Her actions, seventy years later, inspire hope for a new era of agricultural awareness. She expressed her aspirations for the garden by saying:
"It is my hope that our garden's story – and the stories of gardens across America – will inspire families, schools, and communities to try their own hand at gardening and enjoy all the gifts of health, discovery, and connection a garden can bring."
So, let's bring back the spirit of the Victory Garden! Although our challenges may be different today, we can learn from the past and take control of our food system. The choices we make about what we eat and how it's produced have a significant impact. By embracing the power to grow our own food and supporting local, sustainable practices, we can create a more resilient and nourishing future.