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Rhonda Ferree's ILRiverHort

Rhonda Ferree's Horticulture Blog

Victory Gardens Make a Comeback

Today is my cousin Lyle's birthday. Lyle is a great gardener and food preserver. Each year he grows and preserves many quarts of tomato juice and more. As I think about Lyle's garden, the Victory Gardens of old come to mind. One of the biggest trends in gardening today is community gardens. In many ways Community Gardens are the Victory Garden of today.

Victory Gardens, also called war gardens were common during WWI and WWII. These gardens helped reduce the pressure on public food supplies during war time by p[producing vegetable, fruit, and herbs in public places as well as in private yards. Eleanor Roosevelt planted a victory garden on the White House grounds. Although it was more symbolic than useful, the garden did help spur the movement to provide basic information about gardening to public across the nation.

In March 2009, First Lady Michelle Obama planted the first food producing garden on the grounds of the White House since Eleanor Roosevelt. Her 1,000 square foot "Kitchen garden" grows fruits and vegetables used in the Obama family meals and for invited guests. The gardens also help supply a local soup kitchen and food bank. But more than that, this garden helped renew interest in local gardens and awareness for healthy food.

One of my program goals for 2013 is to launch a comprehensive community garden educational program. I recently attended a workshop about school gardens and other gardens geared towards teaching our youth how to garden. I also participated in the Peoria County Boards recent charrette at the Hanna City work camp where participants brainstormed ideas for using the abandoned facility as a food hub, small farm incubator, and farm to garden site.

I envision our program having many facets as we teach people how to "Grow, Prepare, and Eat" food from their gardens. We will do this by teaching individuals, organizations, and schools how to implement community and school gardens. This will likely include how-to startup kits and follow-up guidance from our staff and Master Gardeners.

University of Illinois Extension already does significant work with community gardens. In 2012 Fulton County Master Gardeners worked with the Fulton County Health Department to create a raised bed garden on their grounds. Junior Master Gardeners in Mason County grow produce on the Mason County fairgrounds. Tazewell County's Gift Garden in Morton produced and donated over 900 pounds of produce to Community Harvest. Students from Brimfield school 4-H club work with Master Gardeners at Wildlife Prairie State Park to grow nutritional foods for the park's animals (a different spin to growing local food).

Want to learn more? I created a new Community Garden Programming blog on our website at The blog provides links to resources and a toolkit. Check the blog often for more information on our comprehensive new program plan that will address educational needs related to community/school/youth gardens across Fulton-Mason-Peoria-Tazewell counties.

Happy Birthday Lyle!

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