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Taking pride in your own soil

Johnson City Press • Apr 23, 2020 at 11:00 AM

Those who grew up in the 1950s and 1960s well remember the vegetable gardens that graced so many back yards. Among the greenery were tomatoes, potatoes, peas, beans, carrots, cabbage and lettuce. Some gardens were dedicated to a single vegetable, corn for instance, which would be traded for other vegetables.

Though vegetable gardens were always a staple of the American diet, during the world wars they were called victory gardens and were heavily supported by the government to augment rationing. During the Second World War, a third of vegetables produced in the U.S. came from some 18 million gardens, one found even on the White House lawn. What wasn't eaten was canned and preserved for the winter months.

President Trump has likened the coronavirus pandemic to a war. In many aspects he’s correct. In the middle of this war we’re waging against the novel coronavirus (COVID-19), vegetable gardens are making a comeback as those in quarantine, especially the elderly who helped tend victory gardens, take pride in again acting as "soldiers of the soil."

The agriculture extension center at Blountville cites a surge in requests for information about vegetable gardening in traditional or raised beds. Agent Chris Ramsey said interest increased after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. He said many people who never gardened or hadn’t gardened recently began to get interested in where their food came from and growing some of it themselves.

Ramsey said that interest has manifested itself in more home gardening. As well, people are buying more produce from local farmers markets and connecting directly with growers rather than always buying in grocery stores. Ramsey said there could be some connection to the victory gardens when people grew food to be patriotic, and because it was otherwise in short supply. The extension office is staffed to help by calling 423-574-1919 or emailing [email protected].

Across the country, seed packet sales for edible plants are up 30-40 percent. Where consumers typically make woody plant purchases for summer landscaping, many are buying food plants like tomatoes. “There’s almost a newly discovered need, a motivation to grow more, like helping out the community or something,” one retailer said. “Everybody wants to help out, and especially right now, when you can’t even get near people.”

Growing vegetable gardens isn't difficult, but does require a level of knowledge on how to plant and tend them. Outside your local extension agent, the best place to find that information in online.

There is great satisfaction in to producing your own vegetables. Alice B. Toklas, an American-born member of the Parisian avant-garde of the early 20th century said of it, "The first gatherings of the garden in May of salads, radishes and herbs made me feel like a mother about her baby — how could anything so beautiful be mine. And this emotion of wonder filled me for each vegetable as it was gathered every year. There is nothing that is comparable to it, as satisfactory or as thrilling, as gathering the vegetables one has grown."

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