2020 will go down in the history books as a year to remember. The rise in uncertainty and fear, income losses and a vulnerable food supply has severely impacted our economy. The silver lining (we hope), will be the rise of the modern-day victory garden, an urban garden initiative that could become a social movement.

Earlier this year, consumers were panic buying, which included the toilet paper stockpile debacle. Then masks and sanitiser ran out worldwide, prompting people to make their own. 

In South Africa, home to one of the strictest lockdowns in the world, the government banned alcohol and cigarettes. This prompted a further wave of self-sufficiency. Homemade beer, common in rural, impoverished communities, went mainstream. 

People started thinking about where their food comes from. They joined vegetable box delivery schemes and started cooking or fermenting their own food, sometimes for the very first time. This encouraged many South Africans to start their own modern-day victory garden.

The history of victory gardens and how they became synonymous with patriotism

Victory gardens are a backyard or home garden concept that started in 1917 during World War 1, when the governments of the USA, Canada and the UK encouraged their citizens to start urban gardens anywhere there was open space – their backyards, front yards, rooftops, pavements, parks and even containers.  These gardens were revived during the influenza pandemic of 1918-1919 and re-emerged during World War 2. 

Growing enough vegetables for yourself and your neighbours was the patriotic thing to do – ensuring that the troops fighting in the war would get enough food and safeguarding against food shortages on the home front. Victory gardens met the need for better nutrition and eased the burden on farmers. Locally-grown food was available within communities, which helped keep prices low. 

In the USA alone, so many people took up the call of the victory garden movement that they managed to produce close to 40 percent of the country’s fresh vegetables. All this from about 20 million small home, school and community gardens.

Food gardening in South Africa: Survival and healing

In South Africa, many subsistence farmers grow their own food in smallholder farms, community plots or their own backyard. With high unemployment, poverty and food insecurity, these gardens are about survival. But victory gardens have a lot to teach all South Africans. 

Apart from growing fresh food to relieve food security issues in cities, victory gardens are a great way to boost morale. It is empowering to plant a seed and watch it grow until it is ready to harvest and eat. It’s a way of taking back control over your life. Of being self-reliant.

Urban gardens become part of the local food system, helping create resilience. They contribute to a self-sufficient, adaptable, and resilient mindset. This is important to help buffer you from all the uncertainty and fear. Gardening also provides well-documented mental health benefits. Recent studies show that those who work with the soil experience less stress or depression and even less allergic and asthmatic conditions. 

In a country that’s already ravaged by poverty, starting a victory garden is a way of contributing to healing. If South Africans feel encouraged to grow food, their home-grown produce will take the pressure off the food supply system. This would help support the work of the soup kitchens and feeding schemes around the country. By growing something beautiful and useful, you can increase environmental awareness and community pride. This can easily be enough to inspire the next generation of urban farmers.

Victory gardens increase biodiversity and provide habitat for pollinators

Community and homestead gardens mostly use agri-ecological and organic production methods to grow a variety of crops, which ensures a healthier environment and supports native biodiversity. They increase the resilience of our ecosystems and can even help you understand how land, plants, insects and humans are interconnected and interrelated.

Gardens also provide precious habitats for pollinators such as bees, butterflies, wasps and other insects. In fact, three-quarters of our food crops are dependent on insect pollination, including crops like squash, tomatoes, almonds and peppers.

Even the smallest garden is a victory

Lack of space may discourage many South Africans from growing their own food. Shacks and apartment complexes often have limited or no garden space. Yet the victory garden movement encouraged everyone to grow, anywhere and everywhere. To overcome the challenges of urbanisation and food security, all South Africans need to embrace this movement. 

Living walls, rooftop gardens, school gardens, community gardens, restaurant gardens, container gardens or even just herbs and flowers planted indoors, or across trellises help contribute towards the solution. Today, there are even examples of productive workspace gardens. For example, at Food & Trees for Africa, we have our own vegetable, fruit and herb garden. This provides a beautiful workplace environment and fresh produce for our communal meals and our chickens.

Victory gardens could be an important source of locally-produced, nourishing foods across the country. These urban ‘victory’ gardens will support wellbeing during any type of crises, whether it be global health, climate change or food insecurity. The more resilience you can introduce in your household, backyard and community, the better off you, your neighbours and your environment will be.

Start your victory garden today! 

If you’d like to start your own vegetable, herb or medicinal garden, we’re here to support you! If you’d rather donate or partner with us to reach vulnerable communities and improve food security, contact us today. 

food resilience, food security during COVID-19, Food Security Tag, Grow Your Own, grow your own food, urban food gardening, urban gardening, vegetable patch, victory garden, vulnerable food supply
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