In the realm of food security, Victory Gardens were a hot topic of conversation during the early days of COVID-19. Many of us know the iconographic posters of women and children gardening for the war effort in the 1940s.
The US Department of Agriculture has estimated that during that time more than 20 million Victory Gardens were planted, resulting in a harvest of about 9-10 million tons of fruit and vegetables in home and community plots.
2019 could be seen as the year of climate action and so the local food movement was already having a resurgence, but COVID was certainly a catalyst for action. In response to concerns about food dumping and a lack of access to imported foods, the RAVEN Project’s Growing a Better Future initiative worked quickly to see how we could help in the Nashwaak Valley.
Although our local farmers did their very best to increase production in 2020, it was a tall order to expect them to be able to fill in food shortage gaps potentially left by multi-national megafarms. So, just like the Victory Gardeners, we thought local people could make at least a modest contribution to their own household food needs.
Valley Grow project and participants
The Valley Grow project sought to ease barriers to getting started with gardening. We shared the poster in local communities and on social media. To participate people needed only live in the Nashwaak Valley, have access to land and be ready to do some work.
Each participant in the project was allotted $200 for supplies. Most of our seven participants took the package of a 4×8 raised bed which is suitable for all locations and soils. Local volunteers Don and Marian Gilbert of Nashwaak Bridge helped to deliver lumber, build the beds and drop off the complete package. Each package had a finished raised bed frame, enough soil and manure to fill each, as well as the types of seeds that the participant wanted to grow.
We delivered items as a package because we knew that many people may not have vehicles that they could bring lumber home in or the tools and skills required for assembly. A few folks already had gardens that they wished to expand and we were able to provide them with other items like soil, raspberry cane and strawberry plants.
Getting the gardens built (especially among the other stresses of adapting to life in a pandemic) was really one of the most difficult steps to getting started and we wanted to make it easy for people.
Some of the project participants had never gardened before and some had not gardened since they were children with their parents or grandparents. It was incredible how some gardens flourished, given that we went through what some are calling the most intense drought in 40 years.
Melissa LeBlanc of Nashwaak Bridge was one of the first people to sign up for the project. Melissa and wife Anna Lee Vienneau grew 15 different plants this year including edible and medicinal herbs.
On a garden tour in July, Melissa told me, “It’s been wonderful reconnecting with nature and to plant a seed and see it grow…just to foster something so beautiful, literally and figuratively. It sounds strange to say, but it makes me feel safer in the world, to work with something so giving and solid.”
Travis and Danny and others live on the same property in Marysville and each household received a bed. Danny is quite new to gardening and Travis had not had a garden since he was young and worked with his grandparents on theirs. These two put together an absolutely impressive garden.
There were squash with runners sixteen feet long! Their produce overflowed the beds and onto their lawn. They even put together a greenhouse with their own resources to get things ready early. Danny has a passion for biochar, a kind of charcoal that binds nutrients to its many facets and improves soil quality. They used a homemade kiln to make the biochar. Good soil is foundational to a good garden and these guys had it figured out.
There were a few other participants that did not apply for the garden package, but instead got advice on how to get started or improve existing gardens and we hope to continue that same service this fall with the Valley Grow II project.
Valley Grow music video
Valley Grow project leader Amy Floyd created and shared a video featuring some of the project participants.
Thinking ahead to Valley Grow II
It seems counter-intuitive to think about new gardens now; but, the fall is a good time to get things prepared for next spring.
To get a jump on the 2021 season, you could find an appropriate site for new beds and get raised bed frames built. Or, if you are growing directly in the ground you can add manure, soil and tarp that section off. The tarp will kill the grass next season and the amendments you add will have a bit of time to start breaking down. Tilling is optional, but if you do it, it will be much easier after the tarp is removed.
If you would like to register for Valley Grow II, simply email firstname.lastname@example.org. We have a limit of 20 participants. We are able to come to your site and do a consultation on next steps for a new garden or how to trouble-shoot issues that you had this growing season.
In addition to gardens built through the Valley Grow project, I saw dozens more new gardens between Stanley and Fredericton. There was everything from a few raised beds on a lawn to 50 foot square sections of raised beds with sheet mulching and deer fencing. You can believe there was a lot of sweat equity that went into the creation of those gardens!
It is unfortunate that we have the level of food insecurity that we do in our province, but it is very inspiring to see people take control and work at meeting their own needs. It is very healthy and empowering to move from being a consumer to being a producer.
Amy Floyd is the Senior Food Security Policy Analyst with the Raven Project (Rural Action and Voices for the Environment). Amy also runs the Permaculture Atlantic Network and keeps a large home garden in Taymouth.