Victory gardens promote healthier lives, communities

Guest Column • Michele S. Byers

Since so many of us want to both save money and eat healthier foods, how about bringing back an icon of the past — the victory garden?

The term “victory garden” originated during World War I, and these backyard plots became a common sight on the home front in Allied nations during World War II. The U.S. Department of Agriculture produced a 20-minute film to sell people on the idea and show them how to plant their own victory gardens. And New Jersey even has a town named after them — the Borough of Victory Gardens in Morris County.

Their purpose was to reduce the pressure on public food supplies, making more available for our troops. After all, as Napoleon once observed, an army fights on its stomach.

Today, planting victory gardens make sense again:

• Nutrition — If healthier foods are more accessible, you’re more likely to eat them. And new studies show that high-yield varieties of vegetables grown on factory farms may be bigger, but their nutritional value has been sacrificed in the process

• Education — In an age of budget cutbacks, more and more schools are fitting gardening into their curricula because of everything it teaches about science and nutrition. It’s also a great lesson to teach at home

• Economics — If you can’t raise a garden of vegetables for less than it costs you to buy them, you’re doing something drastically wrong!

• Environment — Transporting

produce from factory farms to faraway markets burns fuel. Growing

at home means less air pollution and less packaging that ends up in landfills. Organic victory gardens can also eliminate chemicals from our air, soil and water

• Food security — One tenet of this larger concept is: the farther away our food is grown, the less we know about it. Recent recalls of both domestic and imported tainted produce are a reminder of this fact

If you have a yard, you have options. How about creating an “edible lawn”? Replace grass and decorative landscaping with fruit-bearing trees, vegetable plants and shrubs that produce edible berries. With a little artful arranging, your landscape can be both beautiful and edible!

No lawn? With some research, you may find a local community garden. Or, check with your neighbors… you may be able to start one together in a common area.

If you are a newbie to all this, remember that you don’t have to do it alone. There are lots of resources out there to teach you what you need to know. One of them is the Northeast Organic Farming Association of New Jersey (www.nofanj.org), which provides training workshops through the growing season. In addition, your local school district’s adult education program, or county parks and recreation department may offer classes.

Gardening season is upon us, so join the fight for a healthier planet and healthier lifestyle. Plant your victory garden this weekend. And I hope you will consult New Jersey Conservation Foundation’s website at www.njconservation.org or contact me at info@njconservation.org if you would like more information about conserving New Jersey’s precious land and natural resources.

Michele S. Byers is the executive director of the New Jersey Conservation Foundation in Far Hills.