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Life in Community

Why I'm Growing a Victory Garden

August 25, 2020 by

children in a garden

When the COVID lockdown began, I thought of the “Victory Gardens” of World War II: the small garden plots across America’s cities and countryside that produced up to forty percent of the vegetables the nation needed annually in the war against fascism. Why not “Victory Gardens” to support the war effort against coronavirus?

And with my normal job shut down, I remembered our first job assignment: “The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and keep it.” (Genesis 2:15). Being seventy-one years old and without assets, I decided to grow what food I could with just sunshine and sweat; to share with neighbors, plug some holes in the food network, and maybe help the economy.

The first thing I did was stake out a claim on a sizable piece of common ground and harvest the weeds for compost. Naturally, a garden grown on sunshine and sweat means lots of compost. And what better way to redeem weeds? My seventeen-year-old grandson turned the compost for me once a week, and in a month – ta-da! Beautiful, rich compost. I divided the ground into four-foot-wide beds with paths between for walking and drainage. I had some maize and bean seeds that I’d harvested from last year’s garden, and a friend gave me a few others – cilantro, arugula, and kale for prime summer salads – and some tomato and pepper plants. By mid-March I sowed the first seeds, sugar snap peas – not lots, but plenty enough for grandkids and friends. Nothing like sugar snap peas for making friends.

Food is our most direct and intimate connection to our Creator.Next into the ground were cilantro and arugula, which need to be sown cyclically to keep fresh tender salad coming. I found a hungry market for these in nearby neighbors, and a little CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) sprang up! Last to hit the frost-free ground were the tomato and pepper plants. The tomatoes are mostly Moskvich, an early Russian heirloom – productive, sizeable, and tasty. For peppers we have always grown the legendary Jimmy Nardello, very sweet and thinned-walled for easy frying and drying. I suspect a cult may have grown up around this pepper.

Then I planned the rest of the garden. I figured that maize (not sweetcorn, but cornmeal) and beans would be the main crops. Both are easy to grow, easy to harvest, and easy to process, dry, and store with no energy input other than – you guessed it, sunshine and sweat. Dried beans are an excellent protein food, and maize is just plain amazing!

Maize was the staple food of this new world long before the Europeans got here. It has an incredibly complex evolutionary history. It’s also a C4 crop and grows about thirty percent faster than most other terrestrial plants, which are C3 plants. (The term C4 means that maize captures four carbon dioxide molecules with the same sun power other plants use to capture only three.)

I’m also intrigued by maize’s dietary benefits. Several of my neighbors have Celiac disease; others have gluten, oat, or soy intolerance. People who react to these ubiquitous ingredients are often up the creek without a paddle in America’s food system, where wheat and soy are in so many processed foods. So I’m growing as much Bowman multi-colored dent corn as I have room for. I have a small stone grinder and we’re already grinding my last year’s crop into the best-tasting cornmeal you’ll find anywhere, for my gluten-free friends who otherwise rely on imitation bread and pasta products (already mighty expensive before the recent food shortages). My maize is free, tasty, and nutritious. Plus, my five-year-old grandson has turned into a miller who loves to run the stone grinder. How much better could it get?

If I am successful and produce surpluses, some friends next door are building a little farm stand to benefit neighbors near and far with a source of nutritious and affordable food. People like to pay for things if they can but I think we will find ways for those who can’t and maintain their dignity, which is as important as the provision of good food.

Food is our most direct and intimate connection to our Creator. He told us to pray daily for it. It comes to us through the sun that he set in the heavens. He designed plants amazingly to collect solar energy and store it in the soil to be converted into diverse food for us all.

It feels pretty good to be growing this Victory Garden. It feels downright natural to “work it, and keep it.”


Gary Frase lives at Fox Hill, a Bruderhof in Walden, New York.

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