Master Gardeners Plant Victory Garden Here
Whether called victory gardens, war gardens or even food gardens for defense, the once popular method of empowering local citizens to grow their own vegetables and herbs in a community setting is making a comeback here in Fulton County.
History indicates the victory or war garden theme emerged in March of 1917 when Charles Lathrop Pack organized the first-ever National War Garden Commission. With food production dropping drastically in the United States and in Europe due to World War I, Pack suggested supplementing existing food supplies by promoting the cultivation of public and private lands. Pack’s campaign resulted in the creation of more than 5 million gardens by the conclusion of the war.
Meanwhile, First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt pushed for the establishment of a victory garden on the White House grounds, a suggestion that was initially refuted by the Department of Agriculture out of fear it would damage the nation’s food industry.
Fast forwarding to the 20th and 21st century, the idea of victory gardens has again come to the forefront, possibly in part by current First Lady Michelle Obama. In March 2009, the first lady is touted as being responsible for bringing back a victory garden to the White House. Through her own efforts as well as input from White House kitchen staff and Jim Crawford of New Morning Farm in the Maddensville area, a 1,100-square-foot “kitchen garden” was planted on the White House lawn to help promote awareness of healthy living and eating.
In fact, Obama’s book entitled “American Grown: The Story of the White House Kitchen Garden and Gardens Across America” has proven to be an inspiration for gardeners worldwide, including Mc- Connellsburg resident and Fulton County Master Gardener Linda Garber. Using excerpts from the book and valuable knowledge from fellow Master Gardener Gary Ankney, the county’s Master Gardeners Program has undertaken its own victory garden this summer.
Located to the rear of the Mc- Connellsburg Presbyterian Church Fellowship House, the notill garden sports a bevy of organic vegetables – broccoli, onions, swiss chard, cauliflower, brussel sprouts, winter and summer squash, zucchini, corn and tomatoes.
Ankney encourages his fellow gardeners to use vertical growth at the victory garden in comparison to allowing the plants to waste valuable ground space with their snaking vines. His future wish is to install drip irrigation to allow the ground to become properly moistened without soaking the plants’ leaves. In the meantime, the master gardeners have come to rely on Gene Leese’s family to tend to routine watering as they only gather once weekly to tend to their harvest, inspect for bugs and bulk up on their mulching efforts that consist of old newspapers and straw.
The group’s weekly meeting includes an hour-long discussion and classroom session with Ankney. The most recent gardening lesson focused on the use of cover crops, such as buckwheat, to keep the ground in constant use especially through the cooler fall months. As a follow-up, the group of 10 to 12 gardeners then take their knowledge outside where they gain hands-on experience. Last Wednesday, the group inspected their squash plants for squash bugs and squash vine borers.
Ankney admits daily maintenance would certainly improve the insect situation, but the point of the gardening exercises and lessons is to provide the gardeners with tools they can use at home.
Ankney said he first became acquainted with organic gardening through his father, who was a subscriber to “Organic Gardening” magazine. Soaking up all of the knowledge he could over the years, Ankney now implements what he has learned at Master Gardener classes and in his own expansive garden.
“We’re trying to show longtime gardeners that there are new ways to do things. It is a legitimate reason to say that things have worked a certain way for so long, but there are new bugs and diseases in existence. You just can’t grow the garden that your father once did,” Ankney told the “News.” “ ... We’d like to bring about new ideas and improve on their successes.”
Even though the majority of this year’s victory garden was started using plants, some from the McConnellsburg High School greenhouse overseen by Ann Meyer, the master gardeners hope that future gardens will be started solely from seed. With some items ready for harvesting at this time, produce at the victory garden is shared just as it would have been during the war effort.
“There are little treats for everyone,” said Ankney. “We hope it will grow and as people see it they will want to share in the experience.”
The Fulton County master gardeners meet every Wednesday at 9 a.m. in the McConnellsburg Presbyterian Church Fellowship House on South Second Street. Meetings are open to the public and for gardeners of any capability.