The Gallivanting Gourmand
Greg Duncan
Greg Duncan
is a freelance writer based in the Montreal region. He is particularly keen about good food. In his day job, Greg is the executive director of the Quebec Community Newspapers Association.

His previous columns are archived HERE.

Posted 11.11.03


Remembering Victory Gardens

There are lessons to be learned from history and perhaps Remembrance Day is the perfect opportunity. How many of us remember a time when gardening was not so much an activity of leisure and stress- busting but rather a call for action?

A postwar era of consumerism pervades and while the propaganda machine still spins, it spins in a different direction. We are bombarded by messages to buy prepared foods, not plant a garden.

Had you been around during World War II you would have been called to action on the home front. Plant for Victory! Join the ranks and dig deep!

Those patriotic, simple and symbolic messages boosted more than national pride and a nation responded with enthusiasm to raise food for families, friends, neighbors, and troops.

The victory garden was born out of a need to engage everyone, regardless of age and sex in the war effort and these gardens produced nearly forty percent of all food consumed during the period.

Posters were posted and pamphlets distributed allowing even the most novice an opportunity. Private companies and government delivered seed at an outstanding rate as families, and communities rallied. Back yards, and empty lots were toiled and sowed while the basics of gardening were learned.

Soil health, how to plant, and when to plant, pest identification and suggestions of what to plant were topics for consideration and use. The most basic of produce was introduced and there was an emphasis on producing items laden with nutrients as a national duty. Hence a variety of legumes, root and green leafed vegetables in a victory garden were key.

Planting suggestions included beans, beets, carrots, peas, radishes, lettuce, spinach, chard, onions, cucumbers, parsley, kohlrabi, summer squash, corn parsnips, leeks, turnips, cabbage, brussel sprouts, broccoli, peppers, cauliflower, tomatoes, eggplant, endive and rutabagas.

Further information regarding the preservation, canning and use of the harvests was distributed and -- contrary to popular belief -- food shortages at the time were rare on the home front, once national planting had begun.

At the start of the war canned food had been rationed, but suddenly there was an abundance of fresh and canned produce available and families engaged in the sharing of food and victory garden recipes. Where would we be today without the many cooking methods and preservation techniques used by these patriotic gardeners?

The bounty did not last or long however, as when the fighting of the war ended, so too did the plea for the production of home-grown food. Many people did not plant a victory garden the following spring, resulting in food shortages that summer.

Small farm operators who had given much to the war effort gave way to larger corporate farms as mechanization replaced time-proven manual hand-tillage methods.

Crops became increasingly standardized and grew in volume as refrigeration and freezing techniques improved. The genetic engineering of plants was born and chemical application against pests became commonplace.

And now, while the world continues to recycle, conserve and garden en masse as a global pastime, we can learn from our past. A fitting tribute to those that served just might be the planting of victory gardens once again in an effort to feed the unfortunate while many wars continue not so far away from home. These gardens just might help fight the war on poverty here in our own backyards.