Urban Earth Keepers
By iNDIGO PROjECT
The Victory Garden movement is an old tradition to Americans who were previously called upon to grow fruits and vegetables to aid in the food shortages of World War II. After many years of being dormant, the movement is resuming in a milieu of locations to decrease the dependence on mass-produced food, reduce our carbon footprint, and create an awareness of the foods we’re using to nourish our bodies. Nonprofit organizations like Garden for the Environment are emerging with a vision to inspire farming beyond the borders of countryside acres to parcels of land sprouting amid concrete backyards.
Garden for the Environment is a half acre Organic Demonstration Garden in San Francisco founded in 1990 to educate as many San Franciscans as possible in the ways of organic farming, composting, and sustainability. With only 17 percent of the total population living in rural areas and a bewildering 2 percent tending to farms for a living, efforts to reintroduce farming ideals into the minds and hearts of Americans is a priority for Garden Program Manager, Suzi Palladino and her dedicated staff of gardeners, volunteers, and local growers.
In September 2008, the largest Victory Garden installment was constructed on the plaza directly in front of San Francisco City Hall. Within the Civic Center area, the Garden was the focal point to Slow Food Nation, a collaborative gathering of food vendors, workshops, lectures, and film screenings introducing thousands of Americans to food options that are ‘good, clean and fair.’ Palladino saw the event as an opportunity to call attention to under-utilized public land, and Garden for the Environment followed up the event with an offer to award fifteen city-sponsored Victory Garden parcels to eager San Francisco horticulturalists. The response was overwhelmingly positive, unearthing a community enthusiastic for cultivating their own locally and organically produced food.
In the years following WWI, the introduction of chemical fertilizers and insecticides or synthetic chlorinated hydrocarbons like DDT (dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane) provided an inexpensive, easy to apply chemical that was effective at killing a range of pests and significantly increasing crop yields. Pesticides were used in these early Victory Gardens to help meet the nation’s substantial food needs. The USDA records that in 1943 some 20-million victory gardens produced more than 40 percent of the vegetables grown for consumption that year. A notable difference in Garden for the Environment and other budding victory gardens is the observance of an organic growing model, which utilizes composting, non-genetically modified seeds, and low water-use landscaping.
Growing organic food in a concrete jungle can pose challenges for even expert gardeners who must demonstrate a strong will, be creative in managing limited space, and exercise patience with San Francisco’s varying climates. Emma White, a local backyard gardener encourages others in her community to become food independent saying, “It’s just more fun to serve food and say it came from my garden. I feel proud.” Bay Area residents are on their way to becoming accomplished in the ways of seed harvesting and crop cultivation through Victory Garden programs like Garden for the Environment. They, along with Mother Earth, will be pleased to know that hard work brings food production closer to the consumer, eliminates pesticide dependence, and contributes to ecological diversity amid the metropolis by the Bay.