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“Will you have a part in victory?” was an important question posed twice to the American people in the first half of the 20th Century; in 1917 during World War I and again in 1939 during World War II. A national campaign was launched promoting the cultivation of available private lands to increase local food production thereby greatly reducing shipping costs and helping the war effort. The Great Wars may be over, but the many benefits of “Grow your own!” are applicable today more than ever. So applicable in fact, one New England town teaches gardening to every 3rd grader as part of their “Be Healthy Beverly” initiative. 5 great reasons to grow your own:
Today, the average distance food travels from the farm where it’s picked to your table where it’s eaten is 1,500 to 2,500 miles. Airplanes and refrigerated long-haul trucks require enormous amounts of fossil fuel, consuming resources and polluting the environment. In New England, why buy potatoes from Idaho and apples from Washington (or further!) when we can grow our own right here?
In a blind taste test administered to local 3rd graders as part of the Green City Growers garden education program, the students preferred the locally grown organic fruit to the conventionally grown shipped fruit. Produce that travels long distances is picked before it’s reached full maturity because it continues to ripen during transit. Crops picked at their peak look and taste better.
Conventional soil has been stripped of natural carbon, nitrogen and microbial biomass, and laden with chemical fertilizers and pesticides. This soil produces fruit and vegetables low in antioxidant activity and essential vitamins and minerals. And the longer produce travels and sits in a warehouse, the more likely nutrients will be lost. More importantly, childhood obesity is epidemic. Teaching children to recognize vegetables and know where they come from engages them in healthy behaviors that will last a lifetime.
In modern agriculture, plant varieties are chosen for their high yield, heartiness, shelf life, and uniformity. You can grow a much more diverse garden, to produce a longer growing season, an array of colors, and the best flavors.
Knowing how to garden, and teaching kids how to garden, is a valuable tool to have in the tool belt. Farming is a valuable part of education that has been lost. Not only is it better for our health and longevity to connect with our food – to harvest, prepare and eat REAL food instead of eating store-bought, manufactured faux food – and better for our planet; in truth, this knowledge may be essential to our very survival one day…
In the 80’s it was the threat of the cold war and nuclear weapons. In the 90’s we started to see massive scale environmental disasters. In the 2000’s it’s the possibility of global economic collapse. Each threat is not replacing the last, but instead being added to the pile of mounting threats. Gone are the days of root cellars, jarred preserves, and canned or frozen vegetables from our own gardens. We are completely beholden to the trucks that roll in every day carrying our food to market.
During an extended trucker’s strike in Paris, France in 1997, Parisiens cleared out the grocery stores within the first day. According to one account: within five days, normal, law-abiding citizens took to the streets and started threatening anyone who had food. Those with no food quickly crossed the line of sanity and started desperately looking to take food from those who had it by any means necessary. Civilization very quickly breaks down without access to food.
Or simply, as one 3rd grader from Ayer School in Beverly, MA, put it when asked Why is it important to garden at home or at school?, “Because if you don’t have any money and you’re hungry you can just eat the food you grow.”
What will be YOUR part in victory?