Tag Archives: Gardening

Hunger History Lesson: Victory Gardens

“Food will win the war.” – President Woodrow Wilson

It’s bitterly cold here this week. And I don’t know about you, but that makes me dream of spring. Or vacation, but I digress…

Thoughts of spring lead naturally to thoughts of gardening. I can’t start seeds indoors for at least another month or plant outdoors for at least two months, but I’ve started thinking about what I’ll plant this year, and from there my mind wandered to Victory Gardens.

During the First World War, food production dropped as young men volunteered or were drafted to serve in the military. At the same time, the armed services’ need for food skyrocketed. To combat this, people were encouraged to plant gardens, which reduced the domestic demand for produce. Reduced demand led to lower prices for the government buyers.

In addition to the practical benefits, gardening also gave citizens an outlet. As they tilled soil and pulled weeds, the families left at home could feel like they were participating in the war effort. In the United States, the War Garden Commission was formed, and some really interesting propaganda was published. Expressions like “Dig on for Victory!” or “Food Will Win the War and Write the Peace!” encouraged the belief that gardening was a valuable way to make a difference.

When the world found itself embroiled in another war just twenty years later, war gardens took the spotlight again. Certain foods and supplies were rationed during the war, but growing one’s own produce ensured that it would be available. Agribusinesses, government agencies like the Department of Agriculture, and county agencies published pamphlets and created educational short films and held classes to teach gardening basics.

Victory gardens can inspire us today.
– Gardening is good for the environment. Plants produce oxygen, and flowering plants support valuable pollinator species.
– Gardening saves money. A packet of seeds can produce a whole basketful of fresh produce, and saving seeds from veggies that you grow or buy is free.
– You don’t have to be a farmer to grow a garden. A suburban backyard or even planters on an apartment patio can produce a crop.
– Gardening allows you to control the fertilizers and pesticides in your food.
– If you want to start gardening, the old victory garden educational films are on YouTube. Just be careful taking 1940s advice about pesticides…

You too can “sow the seeds of victory!”

Documentary Film Review – A Place at the Table

Film Review - A Place at the Table

Good Food Shelf Friday morning everyone! I have a new kind of post for you today, my review of the documentary A Place at the Table. It’s available on Netflix, as well as Amazon Instant Video (free for Prime members).

Before I jump into that, I have some exciting news. Within the last 10 days I have gotten confirmation that BOTH of the articles I recently submitted to online magazines were accepted! The (original) piece in Mamalode won’t be up until April 7, but the Everyday Windshield article (a reworking of the blog post on Meal Ministry) went up on their site this week. You can view it HERE. This is really exciting for me as I love to write and play with words, but have previously only done writing for school, this blog, and my on-again/off-again personal journal.

But back to the movie…

A Place at the Table was made by Magnolia Pictures, the people who made Food, Inc. It was directed by Kristi Jacobson and Lori Silverbush, and released in June, 2013.

The premise/thesis of this film is that farm subsidy programs spend billions of taxpayer dollars every year subsidizing corporate agri-business at the expense of American families. The subsidy programs were designed to end the Great Depression, but due in no small part to lobbyists, they were allowed to continue after the Depression ended, and they continue to this day. As family farms have given way to corporate food production, the subsidies intended for farm families have gone to these corporations as well. Additionally, the crops we subsidize are not fresh fruits and vegetables or whole grains. They’re mostly commodities like corn, soybeans, and wheat, which are used for livestock and manufacturing more than food.

The film primarily bounces back and forth between a single mom of two in Philadelphia, and a community in Colorado. There are also segments of a teacher in Mississippi introducing her class to nutrition after she herself was diagnosed with diabetes. A number of experts contributed, including healthcare workers, nutrition experts, a chef, and a legislator (Rep. James McGovern, D, Mass.).

In 1968, CBS aired a documentary called Hunger in America which was extremely influential and led to the virtual end of hunger in America. When the recession hit in the 1980s, all of that progress was undone as the number of individuals in need of assistance skyrocketed while funding decreased. In response, emergency charities (food banks and soup kitchens) sprung up or expanded all over the country to meet the need. The film applauds these private programs for the work they do in communities across the country, but it argues that charity is a band-aid, not a cure.

A few things the film does well:

They did a nice job explaining that obesity and hunger are not opposites; they’re “neighbors.” When a family has a very limited food budget, processed, shelf-stable, nutritionally barren foods are available more readily and for less money than fresh fruits and vegetables.

The film hit on the danger of nutritional deficiency in the first three years of a child’s life. Even short-term periods of malnutrition can have a permanent impact on a child’s cognitive development and some of the potential that is lost cannot be recovered.

They point out that legislators, by and large, cannot relate to the challenges of hunger. Without personal experience with the stress of trying to feed a family on very little, the statistics mean very little to them (and to many of us watching the film). School lunches and other government feeding programs are just budget items to them. There is a lot of talk about school lunch programs in the film. They describe the immense challenges that schools face in making healthy food for kids on a budget that hasn’t increased (except to keep up with inflation) since the 1970s. I know from my personal grocery shopping experience that produce has gone up a lot higher than just keeping up with the inflation of the dollar!

They talk a little about the larger cost of hunger in America. It’s not just about food stamps and government programs. Hunger costs taxpayers who foot the bill for malnutrition related conditions in the population. Healthcare, disability, unemployment, therapies and special education programs all require more resources in a population with high numbers of malnourished. The film argues that more money for hunger relief up front becomes less money for other social services later.

A few issues:

The film is very political. One reviewer on Amazon called it “Marxist Trash and Poison mixed with Truth.” It leans left. Way left. The implicit villains are Republicans and industry. There is no consideration for how these single moms became single moms or where the kids’ dad(s) are. What about personal responsibility? This is a tough question for me. On one hand, I believe in personal responsibility: in not having kids you can’t feed, in working for what you need. On the other hand, I know that things happen. Illness, injury, death, job loss, inflation, etc. A number of things out of a person’s control can take them from responsible to destitute. I don’t really have an answer for this. All I can say for sure is that children cannot control where and when they’re born. Punishing the kids for the failings of their parents is misguided, unfair, and dangerous.

Editing choices presented the story they wanted you to have, not necessarily the full story. In Colorado, ten-year-old Rosie introduces us to her life. In the story she mentions sharing a bed with her sister, but we never see the sister. Her mom talks about her job as a waitress, but we never hear anything about dad. Grandma is interviewed several times, and she mentions that 7 people live in their house, yet we are introduced to only the three. Clearly we are not getting all the information. Perhaps too many characters would have been confusing, I don’t know. All I know is that there is a lot that went unexplained, which made me wonder if we’re getting truth or fabrication. It’s like the famous Depression photos taken by Dorothea Lange. She is famous for the picture “Migrant Mother” (pictured below). Lange intentionally left dad out of the photo because it was more powerful and heartbreaking without a big, strong man in the picture.

by Dorothea Lange

As many reviewers on Amazon have pointed out, there is no mention of one simple solution to life without produce – gardening. Community gardens, deck and window plants, etc. – there are a lot of options to do something no matter what your circumstances, and it costs very little. It’s not a total solution, but it’s an area that went completely unexplored in this film.


I’m glad I watched A Place at the Table. It wasn’t the definitive exploration of hunger in America, but it made many good points. My biggest takeaway is that I am going to make sure my food shelf donations aren’t junk food; I don’t want to be another source of the problem. I am also more interested in the debate over school lunches and funding the school lunch program.

If you are an open-minded individual who wants to understand some of the complex issues of hunger in America, I recommend the movie. If you have strong, inflexible political views on either side, you will either love it as proof of your ideals and be blind to its imperfections, or you will hate it as leftist propaganda and see only its imperfections. If you can go into it with the mindset that it is not perfect but it has things to teach me, I think you’ll gain some valuable insights. I know I did.

Follow-up on my New Year’s resolutions (see that post HERE): I set a goal of packing meals at Feed My Starving Children 6 times in 2015, and I’m falling behind. I’ve only been there once so far, and have scheduled a visit for next week. There is plenty of year left, but I need to get in gear! My other resolution was to have a Food Shelf Friday dinner once a week 50 out of the 52 weeks in 2015. I’m going to miss my first one this week. Someone in my house has to be somewhere every. single. night. We might be able to share a family meal on Sunday night (in which case I have a box of red beans and rice and two cans of corn ready to go for both us and the food bank), but if it doesn’t work this will be our first week without an FSF dinner since Christmas. I hate when life gets in the way of how I want to live… On that deep thought, I’ll let you go. Have a wonderful week, and don’t forget to share your thoughts in the comments!

Waste Not – Want Not: Regrowing Food from Kitchen Scraps

zombie gardening

Food-That-Magically-Regrows-Itself-1080x3225from Whole Foods via Cookingstoned.tv

Spring is in the air, and I catch myself daydreaming about sun on my back and dirt under my fingernails. I can’t wait to get my garden started – it’s hard to hold out for frost-free nights! Gardening is a great hobby; it allows you to commune with nature, learn about the environment, and feed your family whole, seasonal foods at an affordable price. Nothing the grocery store has to offer can compare with the flavor of my garden’s fresh offerings.

I know some people don’t have the space, knowledge, or inclination to garden. Getting started seems like a big commitment: sod removal, fence building, etc. This week we’re going to explore one way to cut those costs – plants that you can grow from food scraps. No digging up the lawn, no buying expensive equipment or even seeds. Some grow right in the kitchen, and others will need a pot or garden plot. It’s a fun and affordable way to cut your gardening costs and produce budget by using the same purchase over and over again!

1. Herbs: Basil, rosemary, and mint (and probably many others!) can be propagated and planted – a good return on that overpriced bunch of herbs from the grocery store! Pick a longer stem from the bundle and trim off the bottom and top leaves right where they meet the stem. Place the bottom of the stem in water and leave it. In about a week you’ve got little roots forming. Once the plant is substantial enough, you can transplant it to dirt. Step-by-step directions can be found on A Blossoming Life blog.

2. Celery, Romaine, and Other Bunches: When you bring home a bundle of celery, romaine lettuce, bok choy, or other veggie bunches, the first thing you do is hack off the stump end and toss it, right? I know that’s my process. But the root end of those plants can continue to produce! Cut off the stalks, and place the root end cut side up in warmish water. Every day, change out the water and within two weeks you should see new growth out the top. After 10 days-2 weeks, the plant is ready to be re-planted into soil. Step-by-step directions and pictures can be found on One Thousand Words blog. I love how she explains that veggies aren’t dead yet! Another post I saw referred to this regrowth as “zombie gardening.” That might be the hook I need to get my teenage son to participate and eat more veggies…

3. Potatoes and Sweet Potatoes: I can’t tell you how often I find the potatoes in my pantry sprouting and starting to rot. Commercially grown potatoes are cleaned before they’re sold, and that starts the decay process sooner than it does in nature. To use that growth rather than throw it out, cut the potatoes into pieces no smaller than a golf ball, making sure each piece has at least one eye. Voila, seeds! Kevin Lee Jacob’s site, A Garden for the House has a whole article on planting, growing, harvesting, and storing potatoes.

4. Onions and Garlic: Another veggie with a re-grow-able stem end is green onion. They’re super easy to grow, just cut off the tops you’re going to use, and put the stem ends in water. They’ll just grow back and you can keep clipping and regrowing from the same set of stems. Other onion varieties and garlic can also be regrown. Kalyn’s Kitchen has a good look at green onions. From Simple Daily Recipes, the directions for garlic. From Instructables, onions.

5. Seed-bearers: Bell peppers, lemons, apples, avocados, and other seed-bearing fruits and veggies can easily be regrown. Just remove the seeds, and let them dry before planting. Of course, apples and lemons are going to have to grow a whole tree before you get fruit from them, but if you’re interested in that project, you probably already have the seeds right in your kitchen.

A number of blogs and how-to sites have covered this topic very well, and they even offer info on some of the more complicated plants you can regrow, like pineapples:
DIY & Crafts
Simple Household Tips
Happy Money Saver

A few other thoughts on kitchen scraps:

*Veggie scraps, produce that’s about to turn, and chicken carcasses simmered together become chicken stock. This is virtually free and it’s much healthier than the expensive canned stock available commercially.

*Composting means using biodegradable food scraps and yard waste to create nutrient-dense soil. There are many how-to’s online if you’re interested in making your own nutrient-rich soil.

*Increase the nutrient density of your garden soil by burying banana peels beneath your roses or tomatoes, or by sprinkling crushed egg shells under your tomatoes. More info on Daddykirb’s Farm 

Waste not, want not! Have a happy spring, and don’t forget to share your scrap-recycling and gardening ideas in the comments! (Disclaimer: I’ve linked to a lot of blog posts that do a great job describing “zombie gardening,” but in most cases that post is the only thing I’ve read on the site. I’m not necessarily endorsing the whole blog, you’ll have to check it out for yourself.)