Organic Victory Gardens in the Time of COVID-19
Being stuck in our homes, with limited access to personal outdoor space, can be challenging. While most grocery stores are stocked with the items we need to eat, it’s a good idea to plan ahead and think about what you could grow if you had your own garden patch. It is not a new concept for citizens to turn to the home garden in times of hardship.
History of Victory Gardens
The United States has a long history of creating home gardens when there is economic instability. As part of the World War II war effort, the government rationed foods. Labor and transportation shortages made it hard to harvest and move fruits and vegetables to market. So, the government turned to its citizens and encouraged them to plant “Victory Gardens.” They wanted individuals to provide their own fruits and vegetables. Americans planted gardens in backyards, empty lots and even city rooftops. Neighbors pooled their resources, planted different kinds of foods and formed cooperatives. By 1943, the nearly 20 million Victory Gardens across the country were growing 40 percent of the nation’s food! In addition to self-sufficiency in times of crisis, victory gardens have other benefits.
Organic Garden plots help reduce carbon emissions
Plants capture greenhouse gasses naturally through photosynthesis, the process by which light energy is turned into plant food. This ability to capture greenhouse gases is why many experts believe regenerative agriculture, also known as carbon farming, could play an important role in fighting climate change. Eric Toensmeier, author of the Carbon Farming Solution estimates that his own tiny carbon-rich backyard garden, about a tenth of an acre, can offset the carbon emissions of one American adult per year.
My family has a 1/3 of an acre backyard in mid-town Tulsa. On our relatively small, organic plot we can grow enough tomatoes to supply us with yummy, summer salads and canned sauce all winter. We grow enough greens to munch on all spring, enough chili peppers to have hot sauce year-round, and enough flowers to keep us with a steady stream of bouquets through spring, summer and fall. We have berry bushes we enjoy in the early summer and fresh herbs to add to our meats and stews. Each plant I grow in my garden feels like a victory. It is so satisfying to grow and harvest your own food!
Not only is planting an organic victory garden a great way to save money and combat climate change, it is also a wonderful activity to do with your children! To learn more about starting a garden check out this TulsaKids blog post. There is so much to learn when you plant a garden; here are a few of the life lessons I have noticed in my 20 years of growing organic gardens and teaching children to garden.
Life lessons from the garden for young and not-so-young people
- Being gentle: From planting seeds to putting baby plants in the ground, there is a lot of gentle care we put into growing our own food. Not only being gentle with our bodies, gardening also teaches us to be gentle with our planet. Gardening is a great opportunity to teach empathy for other life forms.
- Nature Science: The best vegetables grow in well managed soils that include lots of rich, dirt and compost and are clear of weeds. Learning the science of how to get the perfect mix is one of the fun challenges of organic gardening. Children can help with this process and learn about all the different factors that go into building healthy soil. Check out this resource for more info on soil science. The bonus is you get to also dig for worms!
- Responsibility: Taking care of a garden is like taking care of a pet. You have to feed plants with compost and fertilizers, water them, and protect them during harsh weather. Children who know how to garden take that responsibility seriously and show it in many different aspects of life.
- Creativity: Gardening can be an art form. From designing how you want your planting beds to be shaped, to choosing a plot that will give you the best sun and shade mix, you get to use your creative mind. Also, once those flowers and veggies sprout and bloom they make a perfect inspiration for drawing, painting and photography.
- Health and Wellness: It can go without saying that eating organic food from your garden is nutritionally rich and can boost your immune system. Organic produce has been said to have more vitamins than conventional and promotes a healthy lifestyle. To learn more about the benefits of organic food, check out this resource. Children in my Under The Canopy classes that rarely eat vegetables will dig into a salad that they made themselves and are more likely to eat vegetables after being a part of the growing process.
- Confidence: Looking outside yourself and caring for plants is a great way to get your mind off of the hardships we are facing as a society and focus on the positive, regenerative aspects of the springtime. When you are able to grow your own food, it is an empowering act. You can build confidence in yourself and your family when you raise a small plant into maturity and then get to harvest the fruits of your labor.
- Curiosity: My favorite questions to ask are: What if I grew that? Or, what would happen if we moved that plant there? Or, how did that get there? The What ifs that come up in a gardener’s mind are endless. One way to de-stress and stay curious this spring is to grow a garden.
Thankfully plant nurseries are still considered essential business and there are so many great local ones to support! Most will let you order your plants and soil over the phone and bring it to your car. To get started with your organic victory garden get tips and advice from Tulsa Master Gardeners online resource.
My Favorite local plant nurseries are listed below.
Go forth and plant an organic victory garden, it is a hopeful and viable act in these hard times!
About Margaritte Arthrell-Knezek
Margaritte Arthrell-Knezek is a naturalist, writer and community educator committed to teaching the skills of sustainability and instructing children and adults on how to connect with the natural world that surrounds them daily. Arthrell-Knezek hails from New Haven, Connecticut where she began her work in the arts and environmental activism in 1997.
She graduated from The Evergreen State College In Olympia WA, 2010, with a bachelor’s degree in multi-media art and sustainability studies. She has traveled the world and landed in Tulsa, OK, where she is the Executive Director and Lead Educator of Under The Canopy LLC. Margaritte is a parent to two awesome children and wife to Mykey Arthrell-Knezek.
You can learn more about the programs she teaches at www.underthecanopy.org She is a regular contributor to TulsaKids.com and also keeps a personal blog about parenting in all its real and messy forms called Tap the Root. She was also published in Hilary Frank’s 2019 book, “Weird Parenting Wins.”