Photos by Steve Smith, VisionFire Studios
History repeats itself with the return of the Victory Garden. First-time gardeners have found purpose and a greater appreciation for food grown in their own backyards. Kim Anderson of Abercrombie, daughters Marianne, Madeline, and pooch Grover, have honed a few new skills growing a variety of veggies.
Victory gardens were created out of necessity during the First World War as a way to supplement food rations but they’ve grown into much more than that. That the sentiment returned in 2020 should be no surprise to anyone now, though it would have been laughed at in January.
With a pandemic keeping a lot of us at home wondering what would come next, Victory Gardens helped many on the North Shore. Robert Parker, aka Farmer Bob, of West River Greenhouses saw a tremendous boost in business. Selling out of everything food related quickly and restocking several times, even his suppliers were commenting on how hard it was to replenish due to the growing demand.
Donna Taylor of Frasers Mountain, who admittedly suffers from anxiety says, “this was actually very relaxing for me and helps to keep me focused on something else,” and planted yellow beans, cucumbers tomatoes and strawberries. This was her first time attempting a garden and had her fiancé Mike MacDonald build her raised beds.
Being at home is something we all had to quickly adapt to but the idea of grocery stores not always being able to provide what we needed was top of mind. With restrictions in place regarding shopping, it was easy to understand why people would try their hand at gardening for the first time. A positive aspect of COVID-19
is the idea that it has built a new generation of gardeners.
Supporting your neighbourhood farmer has always been important but now, more than ever, to ensure they stay in business and are available for years to come. The focus on food safety and environmental aspects of buying from your neighbour created a demand for local farmers.
While the interest in growing our own food has been blooming for the past ten years, Farmer Bob says the boost was “multiplied by at least four.”
Taylor planted her garden from seed and while she hasn’t tasted the produce yet, she’s eager to give it a try. When asked if she had any advice for others who are hesitating but thinking of starting their own garden she said, “Do your research. We did not research, just winged it. End result… not such a great garden. However, that will not stop us from trying again next year, after doing a little research ourselves.”
While Victory Gardens began in WWI, they were made more popular during WWII when the government encouraged residents to plant food based on the concern with food rations. The name “Victory Garden” was adopted based on the morale booster and the idea of contributing to the war effort from home. Now, still with a concern with food security, the real possibility of rising food prices along with the desire to find something productive to do at home, Victory Gardens are back.
With school children home and quickly bored, teaching young minds about where food comes from – not a grocery store – was important, too. Giving them something to focus on, a reason to be outside and learn something they wouldn’t normally do in school gave them a hands-on experience to be proud of.
Kimberly Anderson, full-time employee and mother of two school-aged children, had planned to camp this summer, with places in mind both in Nova Scotia and beyond. With the sense of fear and all the restrictions in place, these plans were quickly cancelled and a new one mapped out. The family of four would grow a garden and now have the time to nurture and tend to it regularly.
Anderson said the activity was very relaxing and used it as her break, her reason to get outside after, like a lot of the population, suddenly adapting to working from home. Having something to bring her and her children outdoors, away from screens and providing fresh blueberries and peas to snack on.
“My father passed away last fall, and he always had a garden. I miss him terribly, and when I am in the garden, I feel his “presence” and can almost hear him telling me what to do with my plants as I am tending to them. It’s one of those traditions that is grounding me.”
Anderson’s garden is full with over twenty different varieties. They supported their local nurseries and bought seedlings for the majority while some seeds from previous years were planted. Not all has grown well enough to taste yet, like in Taylor’s garden everything was a learning experience but they both learned how therapeutic growing your own food can be.
What was born out of necessity to ensure families had healthy food on the table circa 1917 during World War I has grown into much, much more. Being as much nutrition for mental health and the soul as it is for the body and physical health. Those who grew their own garden, like Taylor and Anderson, felt a sense of victory with taking control of their well-being during very challenging times.
When first started, Victory Gardens are said to include kale, beets, beans, carrots, lettuce and cabbage. Hearty vegetables that could be used in many different ways and reduce waste. Charles Lathrop Pack is said to have organized the National War Garden Commission to encourage families staying at home to help do their part and export more food to allies. At the time all idle land was recommended, included school and company grounds and any available vacant lot.
Much like New Glasgow’s own Community Garden on Provost Street, the growing of vegetables one hundred years ago brought the community together while still staying apart. Carey Allen started the idea years before the pandemic but it has grown into a “Victory Garden” in many ways since.
Everyone talks of the “new normal” and wonders what life will bring when things improve but one thing is for certain, when you plant a seed of hope you bring something to look forward to for months and possibly years to come.