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Now is the Time to Plant Your COVID-19 Victory Garden

Timothy Boyer Ph.D.'s picture
Seedling Gardening in the Home

In light of how people overreact during times of crisis as evidenced recently by the state of the food shelves in our local groceries, food insecurity could become a very real threat to our health and well-being in the near future. Now is the time to take a history lesson from World War I and II citizen-patriots and plant your COVID-19 Victory Garden.

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Science Recommends Urban Horticulture in Your Backyard

A recent article from the scientific journal Nature Food tells us that there is a hidden potential in our backyards, patios and rooftops for feeding—if not an entire city—a very good portion of our surrounding neighborhoods if people embrace urban horticulture.

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Academically, urban horticulture is the study of the relationship between plants and the urban environment focused on practices to improve urban areas that suits aesthetic, architectural, recreational and psychological purposes. On the more practical side, urban horticulture is a way to feed our family and our neighbors with fresh produce.

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This study was based on the “5 A Day” campaign taken from the advice of the World Health Organization (WHO), that everyone should eat a minimum of 400g of fruit and vegetables a day to lower their risk of serious health problems, such as heart disease, stroke and some types of cancer.

In the study, researchers took a look at the UK city of Sheffield. Sheffield has the sixth largest population in England and Wales, and like most cities, has the shared problem of food insecurity among the poor and underserved. The focus of the study was to measure out just how much potential area is realistically available for urban gardening, which could be used to mitigate food insecurity as well as benefit communities in other ways and augment the “5 A Day” campaign.

What the study found was that converting even as little as 10% of the domestic gardens and 10% of the available green space—while maintaining current land allotments used for urban gardening—that the produce yielded could feed up to 15% of the local population (87,375 people) with sufficient fruit and veggies as recommended in the “5 A Day” campaign.

However, not only would their proposed urban gardening feed more people, but it would also lessen the economy’s need to rely on imports of some foods. For example, the UK currently imports 86% of its total tomato supply. However, if just 10% of the flat roofs identified as potential growing spaces were utilized as soil-free tomato farms, it would be possible to grow enough tomatoes to feed more than 8% of the population one of their 'five a day' produce requirements.

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The significance of this study is that it demonstrates in a time when most Americans may feel that they have no power over the current political climate; no power over the risk of becoming just another number in the coronavirus death roll; no power to do something rather than nothing aside from remaining in isolation in their home, that there is hope if people, “behave bravely with discipline and courage,” as recommended recently by Philosopher Bernard-Henri Lévy.

Philosopher Bernard-Henri Lévy made recent news with his argument that the coronavirus epidemic is not an unprecedented health threat, but that the way societies are responding is both new and dangerous. His warning is that an approach by governments and the media to profile the epidemic as an attack from the outside, is ripe for exploitation. Sound familiar?

Here is a recent audio recording of Philosopher Bernard-Henri Lévy who offers this advice on how the public needs to behave bravely with discipline and courage during these times.

“…after that, we will have to be concerned at what is left. What comes after? The world of tomorrow could be worse than the world of yesterday.”

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The Time and Season is Ripe to Plant Your Covid-19 Victory Garden

So, how do we behave bravely with discipline and courage? Perhaps our parents’ and grandparents’ generation during both World Wars offers us a history lesson that is applicable today with the idea of initiating a Covid-19 Victory Garden.

Throughout both World Wars, a Victory Garden campaign was created to serve multiple needs: it boosted morale, engendered patriotism, helped prevent severe food shortages on the home front, and eased the burden on commercial farms who had to divert their crops to troops and civilians overseas.

According to the History.com website:

During World War I, a severe food crisis emerged in Europe as agricultural workers were recruited into military service and farms were transformed into battlefields. As a result, the burden of feeding millions of starving people fell to the United States. In March of 1917—just weeks before the United States entered the war—Charles Lathrop Pack organized the National War Garden Commission to encourage Americans to contribute to the war effort by planting, fertilizing, harvesting and storing their own fruits and vegetables so that more food could be exported to our allies. Citizens were urged to utilize all idle land that was not already engaged in agricultural production—including school and company grounds, parks, backyards or any available vacant lots.

This practice among civilians at home continued well into WWII where, “In 1942, roughly 15 million families planted victory gardens. By 1944, an estimated 20 million victory gardens produced roughly 8 million tons of food—which was the equivalent of more than 40 percent of all the fresh fruits and vegetables consumed in the United States.”

In other words, it was a program that worked and gave some power back to We the People in times of need and distress when heroes are needed the most.

Today, the original governmentally-promoted war effort of victory gardens can be used to inspire a new movement towards learning self-sufficiency, eating seasonally to improve health through local, organic farming; and, how to create sustainable, regenerative farming for a better world. What better time than now, is the time to plant your COVID-19 Victory Garden?!

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If you have any memories to share of your parents or grandparents having created a wartime Victory Garden, or thoughts about urban farming, please tell us about it in the comments section below.

Image courtesy of Pixabay

Timothy Boyer has a Ph.D. in Molecular and Cellular Biology from the University of Arizona. For 20+ years he has been employed as a freelance health and science writer. Today, with a background in farming and an avid home gardener, Timothy continues writing about science with a focus on the connection between plant biology and gardening for healthy living. For continual updates about plants and health, you can also follow Timothy on Twitter at TimBoyerWrites.

References:

1. “The hidden potential of urban horticulture” Edmondson, J.L., Cunningham, H., Densley Tingley, D.O. et al.; Nat Food 1, 155–159 (2020); https://doi.org/10.1038/s43016-020-0045-6

2. “How The Coronavirus Crisis Is Straining The EU” an interview with Philosopher Bernard-Henri Lévy; WBUR 90.0 Boston’s NPR News Station; April 14, 2020

3. “America’s Patriotic Victory Gardens” by Laura Schumm; History.com update August 312, 2018.

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