February 28, 2008

Verdant and Victorious

My maternal grandparents grew up in a rural community in northeastern Mississippi.  My grandmother, along with her nine siblings, composed the labor force on their parents' small farm.  As a child, I loved hearing her stories about picking cotton, swimming in the cow pond, and swiping eggs from the henhouse to exchange for a Baby Ruth at the general store (run by her grandfather).  Her after-school snack, she told me many times, was a turnip or onion pulled from the garden on her way in the door.

While my choice of snack was different (butter-and-sugar sandwich, anyone?), the meals I ate at Maw-Maw's house included the foods that she'd prepared her whole life: butter beans, grown on Paw-Paw's farm in Liberty, Mississippi, and canned in their kitchen; boiled red potatoes with white sauce; ripe tomatoes from the garden; turnip greens, which my mom liked to eat with pepper vinegar; and a cast iron skillet of cornbread, which never contained wheat flour or sugar.  Paw-Paw enjoyed leftover cornbread with milk for his breakfast, while I chose Maw-Maw's biscuits with homemade peach and huckleberry preserves.  

A theme of Maw-Maw's stories was growing up poor during the Great Depression.  However, her family's hard work on their farm meant that they never went hungry like so many others did.  Growing food was something that she had always done, and was common in rural communities at that time.  During WWII, the Victory Garden movement expanded small-scale food production to urban areas, as well, in support of the war effort.

If its popularity on the blogsphere is any indication, the Victory Garden concept is experiencing a renaissance.  Its relevance extends beyond our status as a nation at war: we are also a nation facing rising food costs, unease over food security, and backlash against industrial agriculture.  Backyard gardening offers a hobby that helps us feed ourselves.  

As a garden neophyte living in Zone 5, I'm relieved to find a plentiful supply of garden blogs and even support networks online.  I've signed up for the Growing Challenge, organized by Melinda at Elements in Time.  Participants commit to growing one more fruit or vegetable crop than they did last year, and to publishing weekly posts about their gardening activity.  I'm also joining the Victory Garden Drive led by Pattie at Foodshed Planet, whose goal is to inspire two million new organic gardens this year.  Pattie also encourages experienced gardeners to mentor those of us whose thumb color is yet undetermined.  To find a companion gardener, or to "Take Five" new gardeners under your wing, check this post.

In addition to my gardening posts, I'll also provide a blogroll of gardening resources that I come across.  Reader contributions are also welcome, particularly if you garden in Zone 5!


Loulou said...

This post really touched me...the memories I have of my Italian grandparents revolve mostly around their amazing garden where they grew just about everything! Even grapes to make table wine.
Then the line about peach and huckleberry jam - oh my! My grandma also used to make pies, jam and sauce with huckleberries. I'm always talking about how wonderful those little, tart berries are. I have so many friends who've sadly never tried them.
Good luck with your garden. I can see that it will thrive with your passionate spirit.

Danielle said...


Aren't grandparents a blessing? It's so valuable to be exposed to the wisdom of an older generation. And Italian traditions are so rich and powerful-- like their wines! Thanks for sharing your experience!