Monday, December 10, 2012

Victory Gardens Past and Future (with Lamanda Joy)

Food prices are rising due to climate, peak oil & poor economy. Best time to start your city on Victory Gardens. Speech by LaManda Joy to Great Lakes Bioneers tells how. With intro on food prices in Canada, UK, Australia, USA, clips from WWII garden propaganda. Radio Ecoshock 121212 1 hour in CD Quality (56 MB) or faster downloading Lo-Fi (14 MB)

If you eat food, maybe you've noticed groceries costs more and more. Well stock up now, food inflation is just ramping up.

It's not just the extra 200 million mouths to feed on the planet next year. Climate change is already re-arranging your food bill.

In North America, and around the world, one big driver is the record drought in the prime crop production areas of the United States this year. Many meat producers gave up, selling off their herds, temporarily keeping meat prices lower. The current cattle herd is the smallest since 1973. Once that sell-off goes through the supply chain, the high cost of corn and other grains will accelerate meat prices from 5 to 10% higher, according to one Canadian report.

Here is Peter Mansbridge of host of "The National" on Canadian Broadcasting Corporation on December 6, 2012.

"If you are buying extra groceries for the holidays, some experts suggest you also might think about stocking up for the coming year."

Next comes CBC Consumer Affairs reporter Aaron Saltzman [with a report from Canada's premier agricultural university in Guelph, Ontario]:

"According to the University of Guelph's annual food forecast, just about every basic staple will cost more next year. Dairy up as much as 3%; bread up as much as 4%; eggs up as much as 5%; but likely the biggest hike... 'We would expect meat, particularly beef and pork to go up more significantly. We are saying probably as much as 4 and a half to 6%.' The price of pork in particular expected to jump by as much as 10%.

According to the report the main driver behind most of these price increases is climate. The drought across North America this past year was one of the worst in recorded history. Among the hardest hit areas, the Great Plains states in the U.S. - America's bread basket. That drove up grain prices and in turn, the cost of feed and livestock." ...

...For those unwilling to go vegetarian, 'Fill the freezer now, because it's going to get tougher going forward.'

And, he says, if you are wondering how accurate the University's predictions are, last year the forecast was bang on."


Host Peter Mansbridge: "So some predictions there about food prices in the future. What about the prices we've already seen? Here are some numbers to consider. According to statistics Canada, the cost of meat has risen more than 30% in the past decade. Egg prices have risen by 50%. Bakery products are up by nearly 60%. By comparison, fresh vegetables cost about 1% less than 10 years ago."

Don't be thrown off by comforting reports from the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization. Their early December report says basic food prices fell by 1.5% in November. That was partly caused by a massive drop in the price of sugar.

But as the World Bank reports, food prices are currently "stable" but still very high. In fact, expensive food hovering near the record 2008 levels is the new normal. Unlike the UN, the World Bank food price index finds food prices are 7 percent higher than in 2011. Grains are 12 percent higher already from the previous year.

In the United Kingdom, the November Shop Price Index shows food prices up 4.6% from a year ago. Fresh fruits and vegetables are particularly high, causing what the Guardian newspaper calls "a nutrition recession" in Britain.

A series of reports in the Australian press say food prices there will hit a new record high in 2013. The cost of rice, wheat, pulses, edible oils, sugar and vegetables, are all rising in India.

Bloomberg business finds American meat prices are set to go much higher. Quote from Bloomberg: "The drought in the Midwest and Great Plains drove corn yields to a 17-year low and may last at least through February. U.S. consumers will pay 3 percent to 4 percent more for food next year, a half-percentage point above this year’s expected increase, according to the USDA."

It's not just the drought. A weird bout of summer-like weather in March of 2012 caused many fruit trees to bloom early. The return of cold weather killed off the flowers, leading to a drop of the apple crop by as much as 80% in some regions. The world charity Oxfam has a special report on the impact of extreme weather events on the world food supply.


Wait a minute! Didn't I promise you some good news this week?

Sure, if more people can't afford red meat, their health will improve dramatically. Healthy vegetables are still the most affordable option in most places.

But it gets much better than that. We can quickly and cheaply convert most of our major cities into major food production centers. In this program, you will hear how it happened before. And how local urban food production is making a rapid come-back. The kicker is lots of folks are going for more than just the joy of healthy self-grown food. They come for the new sense of community as well.

Most of us can't afford to just kick-off and head to the country. We need some income, at least to make the transition. So like Havana Cuba, after the Soviet empire died and stopped sending oil, we'll have to feed ourselves where we are.

We are going to the City of Chicago, where the American Victory Garden movement was launched during World War Two. And where it is coming back strong. From the Great Lakes Bioneers conference, we have an excellent recording of LaManda Joy, founder of the Peterson Garden Project. She'll tell us about the Victory Garden movement, where MILLIONS of novice growers produced mountains of food for the War effort. How a whole nation can transform into local food production in just one year.

That's not just something that happened in the past. LaManda will tell us how Chicago is organizing once again, to bring back urban food production. Whether you are concerned about economic collapse, climate change, peak oil, or just healthy food - this speech is a message of hope for all of us.

This recording was made by Kelly Pierce of the Chicago Independent Media Center for Radio Ecoshock. Here is LaManda Joy, speaking November 4th, 2012 to the Great Lakes Bioneers.


Download/listen to just the LaManda Joy talk (as broadcast on Radio Ecoshock, 53 minutes) in CD Quality (48 MB) or Lo-Fi (12 MB)

During World War Two, 200 million people gardened, and 40% of produce consumed in America was homegrown.


How do you teach an entire city to grow food?

The Mayor of Boston helped plow up the Boston Commons.

Movie stars became part of the program. Veronica Lake changed her hair from swept over one eye to keeping hair back and out of the way - better for women munitions workers and gardening. The campaign was called "Hair wins the war".

Cartoon characters and superheroes were used to further gardening message.

Popular culture was drafted into the gardening movement - beer drinkers showed having a drink after sweaty gardening. Fashionable gardening clothes were sold from department stores.

Children were brought into the movement by their parents and their schools. Chicago held well-attended harvest festivals and garden parades.

Corporations got involved. Sears started 24,000 Victory Gardens in the Los Angeles area. International Harvester provided the plows in Chicago.

To keep that food year round, there was a mass program of canning. Five billion pints of produce were canned by volunteers every summer during the war. "Pressure cookers and canning supplies were in such high demand that their production was overseen by the government."

"Gardens began sprouting behind sign posts, on railway embankments, in school yards and church yards and in window boxes." Vacant lots and parks were also used - any spare space.

The Office of Civilian Defense was put in charge, with Fiorello La Guardia. His "assistant" was the President's wife, Eleanor Roosevelt - the last person to plant a food garden on the White House grounds until Michelle Obama. Could the Department of Homeland Security start thinking about real food security, and help found local gardens instead?

90% of the participants had never gardened before. This required a massive public training effort through: community groups, film nights on how to plant, educational brochures, talks by experts, newspaper articles. They mounted Kiosks near gardens and in public places to post notices and articles, a kind of social media of the day.

The City of Chicago was broken up into 7 regions, then down to block captains. Each official garden received a decal. There were many more gardens in private yards, and people who didn't want to register of keep the paperwork. 75,000 of these decals were posted in the first year in Chicago, 1942.

In 1942, Chicago had 12,000 community gardens on over 500 plots, covering 290 acres. That doesn't include private or non-registered gardens. By 1942 it was 53,000 gardens on 1500 plots. 14,000 children were gardening.

The first Victory Gardens were in Chicago, and it became a national model. The largest garden there was 32 acres, with 800 families participating.

Chicago passed an ordinance against damaging or stealing from Victory gardens. The fines were $50 to $200, which would be $650 to $2,600 in today's currency.

You can find some of the Victory Garden propaganda on You tube. She also recommends the book "The Twenty Five Dollar Victory Garden" which has an interactive format using the Net. Find You tubes on the $25 Garden here, or follow Joe's blog here. The best way to learn to garden is still from a family member, neighbor or friend. In 2009, Joy tells us, the Internet surpassed books as the second most sought out way to get gardening information.

It's interesting to note that the food shortage and poverty during the Depression of the 1930's was so severe that 35% of the men drafted for World War Two could not be accepted due to malnutrition. LaManda wonders if the numbers might be any different today, perhaps because of obesity and poor diets?

How did Chicago do it? "We had government support. There were overarching organizational structures. There was a donation of space and equipment. There was mass education, promotion, corporate and individual commitment, and recognition."


Inspired by all this, LaManda Joy and her community set out on a campaign of "one percent". The aimed to achieve just 1% of the accomplishments of the World War Two Victory garden movement in Chicago. She found donated space, and got municipal support. Her first organizing meeting was attended by over 50 people. Since then, the "Peterson Garden Project" has grown into a network of Chicago community gardens. Last year in Chicago there were 2600 community gardeners on 690 plots.

The Peterson Garden uses the square foot method. Because there was an old building foundation at the site, there was no topsoil. The gardeners hauled in tons of mulch and soil building materials. It's all organic gardening, and the produce tastes fabulous. Most people remark how different and good the food tastes, versus agribusiness products.

LaManda also praises the Seed Savers Exchange. The Peterson gardeners use a lot of heritage seeds to get the best veggies and fruit.

Meanwhile, the Obama Administration has helped a bit. Michelle Obama planted a food garden at the White House, and then partnered with Wal-Mart in announcing the addition of fresh fruits and vegetables to their line.

The head of the USDA ordered the 30,000 USDA agricultural stations world-wide to either plant a food garden or participate in one.

LaManda Joy finds that many people show up to garden because they are also seeking a way to build community and relationships. With fewer attending Church, and many spending time home alone with electronic entertainment, getting outdoors to garden works well for them. Five percent of the new Victory Garden produce goes to support the homeless and other charities.

Wasn't that a great speech? So much to learn, about how it was, and how it could be now. LaManda Joy is the founder of the Peterson Garden Project in Chicago USA. Find out more at Find LaManda's blog here.

You can also watch a LaManda Joy speech at the Library of Congress, recorded May 13, 2011 "Chicago Victory Gardens: Yesterday and Tomorrow" here. It's one hour long. The high quality recording from the Great Lakes Bioneers Chicago conference November 4th, 2012 was made for Radio Ecoshock by Kelly Pierce of the Chicago Independent Media Center. Thanks Kelly, you've set an example for how we all can share important audio.

I'm Alex Smith. I'll be back next week with more food for action. Dig in at our web site, And find links to this week's program in the Radio Ecoshock show blog at Contribute to our fundraising drive if you can.

Thank you for growing your brain this week.


In our one hour version, we go out with a song by Ewaldy Estil from Haiti. He's a coordinator there for Heifer International, the charity that provides a cow to alleviate hunger. The song is called "911 Trees". Ewaldy says he was inspired by "Plan B" from Lester Brown of Earth Policy Institute.

More videos of Ewaldy Estil here.

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