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Some victory gardeners showing their vegetables 1942-43(?) | Photo: Alfred Palmer and/or Howard Hollem for the U.S. Office for Emergency Management / Library of Congress
OWOW_2CPos_FormatA_PANThe Sweet Smell of Victory
How Colorado Gardeners Are Drawing on History to Help During the COVID-19 Pandemic

With many people staying close to home during the coronavirus pandemic, gardening has become popular, specifically vegetable gardens. COVID-19 has led to high unemployment, causing food banks to be overwhelmed, so people are growing food not only to feed their families but also to help their communities. It’s an old idea reborn to meet the moment.

During World War I and World War II, American households were urged to do their part to support the war effort. Government posters, newsreels, and radio campaigns encouraged the planting of Victory Gardens—vegetables grown in people’s yards and in public spaces to keep the food supply flowing.

The victory gardens produced over 40 percent of all the vegetables grown during the war years and helped boost morale. Today, the theme of going to war—this time against the COVID-19 pandemic—has created a revival in victory gardens. But instead of feeding the troops, vegetables are being shared with food banks and local members of the community to help people who’ve lost their jobs or who are struggling economically.

In Colorado, an initiative developed by Colorado State University Extension called Grow & Give is a modern-day version of the victory gardens. It's designed to help participants—who might be stuck at home to "flatten the curve"—grow fruits and vegetables and plant extra to share with those in need.

According to Amanda McQuade, who works at CSU’s agriculture experiment stations in Grand Junction, Colorado, and is part of the Grow & Give team, the COVID-19 pandemic is driving high numbers of people to various food assistance organizations—with an estimated 40 percent of patrons being first-time visitors. Produce has always been a challenge for emergency food providers to acquire, but it's the number one most requested item from patrons. So, having fresh, local produce grown in backyard gardens to offer this summer is a windfall.

What Are Macrobursts?

We asked Colorado state climatologist Russ Schumacher, to explain the difference between microbursts, macrobursts, and tornadoes—and why the storm that hit Akron was so unusual.

The Grow & Give program offers numerous resources—not only about the basics of vegetable gardening like planting times, soil preparation, fertilizing, and maintenance—but also where to donate the produce after harvest.

But as any gardener will tell you, no two seasons are alike, and good intentions might not always be rewarded. Linda Langelo, a horticultural agent with CSU Extension, says in her region in northeast Colorado, she often sees farmers’ crops and people’s gardens get wiped out by hail. “A lot of people like to can and put that food aside, and you can end up with nothing.”

That’s what happened in early June to people in Akron, Colorado, out on the Eastern Plains, when a powerful macroburst—a severe storm with strong straight-line winds—slammed their small town with gusts over 100 miles an hour. Langelo said, after the storm passed through, “There was nothing left. Plants were shredded, if they were there at all.“

Suddenly, instead of growing vegetables to help others, people like Carrie Colby needed help themselves. Colby typically grows vegetables for her family and to share with her community, but the macroburst decimated her garden. “Trees got uprooted right from the roots and gardens got wiped out. My greenhouse was literally picked up from the ground and thrown through that fence into the neighbor’s yard.”

Carrie Colby and her family at their home in Akron, CO | Credit: Frani Halperin, H2O Media, Ltd.
Linda and others at the Grow & Give program heard about the damage and were able to hustle and get new plants to people like Carrie, so she could restart her garden, which is looking a bit sparse but has cucumber, strawberries, basil, tomatoes, and some onions she just harvested. For many who live out here, gardens aren’t just for fresh veggies in the summer but also food for the winter.

Although victory gardens might have been new to many people, Colby’s family started theirs three years ago when her daughter chose to learn about them in school. She discovered that the government encouraged people to have at least two chickens per person in the household—and if you had enough space—a milk cow. Obviously, Colby says, her house in town doesn't have enough space for a cow, adding with a laugh, "I wouldn't want to clean up that mess anyway."

Just cleaning up the mess from the storm has been enough to keep Carrie busy. Soon, she’ll be delivering produce to her church and the nursing home. Then, she and her kids will be pickling, canning, and freeze-drying vegetables, not to mention egging on their chickens, which survived the storm, to lay some eggs. 💧

Published: 8 September 2020 | © H2O Media, Ltd.     Music: DHD Music, Happy Uplifting Americana

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