Sustainability

Victory Gardens for Climate Change

Victory Gardens for Climate Change

Photo courtesy of USDA National Ag Library

Eat Your View

By Robert Turner

Recent research shows that conventional agriculture and our modern, fossil fuel-based system of food production play an important role in climate change and global warming. The chemicals, including fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides (manufactured with and from fossil fuels), long-distance transportation and soil erosion contribute no small amount of the carbon dioxide (CO2) released into the atmosphere.

The research also shows that sustainable, organic farming actually helps reduce carbon in the atmosphere by capturing much of it and storing it in the soil. Sustainable agriculture is part of what scientists call Natural Climate Solutions (NCS) that can provide more than one-third of the low-cost climate mitigation needed to stabilize atmospheric warming. Along with reductions in fossil fuel emissions, other big NCS contributors are reforestation and protection of existing forests, wetlands and coastal regions. Moving cattle off confined animal feed operations and back to pastures and the population consuming less meat in general are also steps in the right direction, weapons in the war on climate change.

Just about anyone can join the fight, and victory gardens can give us a pretty good example to follow. In my father’s generation, during WWII, as much as half of the fruits and vegetables consumed in the US came from local gardens that popped up in parks, vacant lots and backyards. Known as victory gardens, they helped reduce pressure on the food supply brought on by the war.

With many young men leaving farms to go off to fight in the war effort during WWI and WWII, many nations feared there wouldn’t be enough farmers and food producers left to feed the hungry troops or the people back home. Commercial crops were diverted to feed soldiers overseas, and food rationing that began in the spring of 1942 became another incentive to get Americans to grow some of their own food in backyard gardens and other available plots of land.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture and other organizations printed instructional gardening pamphlets and even issued shovels and other gardening tools. Radio shows encouraged gardeners with helpful tips on growing vegetables. Posters popped up everywhere with slogans like these: Our Food Is Fighting; Grow Your Own, Can Your Own; and Sow the Seeds of Victory!”

Victory gardens made no small contribution to the war effort and to keeping Americans fed at home. Having more food grown locally in neighborhoods also reduced the need for trucks, transportation and fuel, allowing them to be redirected to the war effort and transporting valuable military equipment and supplies.

The Victory Garden movement united and energized the home front and gave people feelings of empowerment at a fearful time. Some studies show that growing your own food has psychological benefits and creates feelings of self-reliance, confidence and community strength. Victory gardens show that we can become a nation of gardeners and local food producers again, if we had to. The threats of climate change are now telling us: we have to.

Local, organic growers are silently leading the fight in the battle against climate change. By creating a backyard carbon sink, they are improving soil productivity, cleaning our air and water, and maintaining biodiversity. Growing organically at home also reduces the fossil fuel-based chemicals and soil erosion problems from conventional farming systems, both big contributors to carbon emissions and climate change. And, of course, local gardens also greatly reduce the CO2 emissions from transporting all of that food across the country. Join the climate fight by shopping at a farmers market, or Grow Your Own for Victory!

Robert Turner is director of the Creekside Farm Education Center and the author of Carrots Don’t Grow on Trees: Building Sustainable and Resilient Communities. To learn more, visit EatYourView.com.

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