Time to revive Victory Gardens?

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When I moved into my house, my first task was to dig up the grass in my back yard and plant vegetable beds. Peppers, squash, onions, greens––and the gold standard, tomatoes––make life complete. Nothing compares to picking a fresh meal out of one’s own yard.

This winter, as I have been planning my garden, I was thinking that we might want to re-institute the Victory Gardens of World Wars I and II. The government asked the public to support the war effort by planting gardens. Even Eleanor Roosevelt planted vegetables in the White House lawn. (Fun Fact: the Dowling Community Garden in Minneapolis remains one of two surviving public examples from WWII.) Now it’s not so much the war, as the deep recession––combined with a rising interest in eating local and toxin-free fruits and vegetables––that is contributing to the rise in home gardens, farmers’ markets and community-supported agriculture (CSA).

The Permaculture Research Institute for Cold Climate (PRI), a group dedicated to promoting sustainable lifestyles in cold climates, has instituted an urban farming program that does the Victory Garden one better. (www.pricoldclimate.org)

With their Backyard Harvest program, PRI plans to strengthen the Twin Cities’ local food infrastructure, connect eaters with food and support small-scale urban farming operations. The program is now recruiting individual customers or neighborhoods to contract with a farmer to build, maintain, harvest and clean up a backyard garden. The farmer will keep a journal and educate the customer to take over the garden next year. $1,100 will buy installation, materials and labor for a 100-square-foot garden. If you are interested, contact Krista Leraas (harvest@pricoldclimate.org) to schedule a consultation, or to volunteer labor or donate tools.

Want to help grow a local food system one yard at a time? Gardeners, start your seeds! Several experienced CARAG gardeners have offered to mentor new gardeners; if you want some advice and encouragement, please contact me (maryannknox@visi.com, 612.822.8533). If you have a sunny yard, share space and join forces with a neighbor. Attend Stephen Eisenmenger’s workshop on Growing Food in a Small Urban Plot (March 26, 6:30 p.m. at Urban Earth Co-op). If nothing else, plant some boxes or pots. Get growing! Turn your lawn into a nourishing landscape. You’ll enjoy delicious fresh vegetables and your budget will feel the difference, too.

Mary Ann Knox, a CARAG resident, anxiously awaits the first ripe Beam’s yellow pear tomato in her urban back yard.