Posts tagged ‘community gardens’
In my research on Rhode Islanders’ wartime gardens, I expected to find precedents for school gardens, for community gardens, for public gardens, and for women and children going to work at local farms. I was surprised, however, to learn about the number of allotment gardens that local manufacturers provided for their workers.
As I mentioned in a previous post, the National War Garden Commission saluted the Brown & Sharpe Manufacturing Company for establishing 30 acres of war gardens in Providence in 1917. Today I found a Providence Journal article announcing the kickoff of the B&S gardens–nearly 600 25′x80′ and 25′x100′ plots on and around Pleasant Valley Parkway. The company obtained, plowed, harrowed, fertilized, and staked the plots. The newspaper reported, “What is now a big, barren lot of land, is expected, within a few months, to become a huge field of potato plants and blossoming bean stalks. Here hundreds of employes [sic], aided by the company by which they are employed, will do their ‘bit’ for the country along agricultural lines and at the same time provide themselves with a generous supply of potatoes or beans for the next winter.” The photo depicts a worker and family preparing their garden in May 1917.
Several Rhode Island manufacturers provided land for free and materials (like seeds, fertilizer, tools) at cost to their employees. My running list through 1917 includes Stillwater Worsted Company; Manville Company; Wanskuck Company; Goddard Brothers; B&S; Pawtucket Rendering Company; and Slatersville Finishing Company.
It was a win-win situation for employee and employer alike. The employee received a free plot of prepared land; free or cheap supplies; food for their family; and an opportunity to support the war effort. Did the worker also get work time to garden? Not sure. The employer received the gratitude of their workers; control of their workers’ leisure time (more time in the garden = less in the bar or the union hall); stronger and healthier workers; and enviable public relations for their support of workers and the war effort.
Workplace gardens were common in Rhode Island and throughout the states during World War I. Know of any other examples, past or present?
Last week, I visited the Providence Public Library’s Special Collections Department. One of the first things librarian Rick Ring showed me was an original WWII-era Victory Garden poster–which was a thrill after looking at countless tiny digital images online. There’s a large collection of materials relating to the two World Wars.
But the best thing Rick found was a book on Gardens of Colony and State: Gardens and Gardeners of the American Republic Before 1840 (edited by Alice G.B. Lockwood, 1931). The Rhode Island chapters are outstanding, although unfootnoted. Aaarrrrgh!
During King Philip’s War (1675-76), some European colonists fled the mainland for Aquidneck (aka Rhode Island). Check out how on this part of John Seller’s “Mapp of New England” (ca. 1675), RI is labeled “PLYMOUTH COLONY,” and Aquidneck Island is labeled “Rode Island.” They found temporary asylum with relatives in Portsmouth. According to the (five) authors of the RI chapters, the settlers farmed every square inch of the island during the war years, pushing aside ornamental or experimental gardens, planting crops, and allowing animals to graze the remainder. Borrowing a term from World War I, the authors concluded “’War gardens’ were imperative.”
To aid refugees and locals alike, the Town of Portsmouth voted to provide 100 acres of the Town Commons; “for those that want relief…and what shall be so lent to them, they shall improve by sowing and planting for the time of two years from the date of this meeting.” In short, the Town of Portsmouth responded to wartime crisis by providing public land for community gardening. When most of Rhode Island’s population were farm families, and all of Rhode Island depended on local food, it was absolutely critical to prioritize food production.
And it’s still a priority, if you ask Michael Pollan. Read his “Farmer In Chief” essay in yesterday’s New York Times Magazine, and we’ll catch up soon.
Thanks to everyone who showed up for Green Drinks on Thursday. I enjoyed hanging out at Green Zone to talk gardens, consumption, and war with a bunch of gardeners, activists, greenies, bloggers, and friends.
One of the people I met is studying the economic value of community gardens. If you’ve visited the community garden outside Brown University’s Urban Environmental Lab this summer, you’ve seen the signs stating that an experiment is in progress. Grad student Marie-Laure Couet weighing the carrots, counting the lettuce leaves, and tallying it all up. If you’ve seen your grocery bills go down in the summer as your community garden thrives, contact Marie-Laure.
This morning, I picked some beans, kale, and beet greens for the upcoming Firehouse 13 potluck. There’s still more to graze on in Green Zone, but it was time to do some serious harvesting. And that means serious eating tomorrow.
At the Bridgham-Westminster community garden potluck, I learned about the Niagara Street Garden from two of its gurus (and WBNA gardeners), Rachel and Greg. Rachel works for CommunityWorks Rhode Island, an Elmwood nonprofit that established the garden in 2003, and Greg is a teacher who spends his summers there working with kids. Located at the corner of Niagara and Laura streets in Providence’s Elmwood neighborhood, it’s an edible garden with raised beds and trellises growing delicious cucumbers, zucchini, tomatoes, herbs, strawberries, chard, and more.
Kids rule at Niagara Street Garden. For the first four years, kids planted, tended, picked, ate, and donated the produce. And they painted in gorgeous colors the raised beds, gate and fences, even the compost bin. A purple and yellow compost bin? You betcha.
In 2008, the kids showed up at two Providence restaurants and appealed to the owners and chefs. Since then, Local 121 and the Liberty Elm have purchased fresh and extremely local produce from these young gardeners and served it up. Last week, Local 121 hosted a dinner in honor of the gardeners and their families to showcase their delicious veg, herbs, and fruit. Course after course came out of the kitchen: pesto potatoes, green salad, tomato salad, zucchini fries, baba ganoush, and watermelon—all Niagara produce. And this was a meal for 60-70 people! Talk about biointensive (and yummy).
Hey blotanicals, Firehouse 13, Rhode Island, and all–welcome and thank you!
About a month after I installed the Green Zone garden, I launched the Green Zone blog. I figured that the blog could track the development of the garden and explore relevant topics. In tending the garden and the blog, I’m discovering new communities everywhere.
At Firehouse 13, this means getting to know the resident artists and staff, and encountering performers and exhibitors, neighbors, and passers-by. And by having a presence on the ground, I can invite other locals to stop by Green Zone when they’re in the neighborhood. Do drop in, talk to the plants, and have a nibble: 41 Central Street, Providence, RI.
By cultivating a public landscape in Providence, I have hooked up with a handful of terrific local green groups. Thank you gardeners from Fox Point Community Garden and the West Broadway Neighborhood Association‘s Bridgham Street Community Garden for inviting me to your potlucks (Emily’s broccoli bake, yum). A couple of weeks ago, Green Zone was part of ProvFlux, which meant getting to meet a bunch of locals and out-of-towners. Hey you guys from Southside Community Land Trust, please come over for a visit soon!
I’ve also been learning about the local organizations and online communities that support public art and gardens. The Narragansett Bay Commission, What Grows on RI, RISCA blog, Natural News Network, Art in Ruins, Providence Daily Dose, Greg Cook, Providence Phoenix, and Blithewold Blog have mentioned Green Zone on their websites. And I enjoy trading comments with RI garden bloggers Ledge and Gardens and Earth Friendly Gardening.
Getting tossed into the worldwide blogosphere is eye-opening to say the least. Nice to meet you, readers from Nature Hills Nursery, Shibaguyz, Kebun organic garden, metafilter, friends, and family. And to top it all, off I just joined Blotanical. Any suggestions for more?
Spinning around Providence, I have found tire and wheel gardens in unexpected places. The illustration on the left comes from The War Garden Victorious (1919): just another example of how Americans used every available space for War Gardens during World War I.
Rachel and Emily told me about the tire planters at the Bridgham St. Community Garden (corner of Westminster St.). Organized by the West Broadway Neighborhood Association, this garden has several dozen plots and about a dozen tires full of sunflowers, squash, some kind of black berry that’s not a blackberry (?), and other flowers. This garden is adding plots incrementally each year, with the tires creeping south across the vacant lot. If you’re interested in signing up to garden next year, contact the WBNA.
Across town, on Cemetery Street (near the North Burial Ground), old bicycle wheels, with and without rubber tires, define the edges of the Farmacy garden. Farmacy Herbs is a non-profit organization that tends the garden; creates herbal medicines, teas, and other products; and offers classes. Founder Mary Blue used to work at Seven Arrows Herb Farm.
Not far off on the map, but in other ways a million miles away from the Farmacy, is the Spike’s on Branch Ave. When Spike isn’t eating hotdogs, he’s doing some tire gardening in the parking lot. A closer look shows reveals that tires are stacked on their sides as a planter for mums (or something?) and an upright tire holds a bunch of yellow pansies. Yo, Spike! Nice garden!
As America entered World War I, women and children enlisted in garden armies, gardeners went to battle against insect pests, and every effort was made to ensure that “our food is fighting.” But as if all that wasn’t enough, American land also was compelled to go to war.
The National War Garden Commission targeted empty city lots and sent out battalions of pitchfork-waving civilians…to use their pitchforks and garden. America could not afford to have any land slacking off during wartime. Gives a whole new meaning to the idea of fighting to protect American soil.
The “slacker land” was put to work as sites for community gardens. The benefits of community War Gardens included sharing expertise, soil preparation activities, plants, and equipment. And there were the social benefits: friendly rivalry, community building, etc. In The War Garden Victorious (1919), Charles Lathrop Pack promoted community gardens as community assets that increased real estate values, freed up funds that would have been spent on food, and beautified the city. He urged local governments, chambers of commerce, and other civic organizations to retain the gardens as a post-war economic development program.
Contemporary proponents of urban agriculture use many of the same arguments today. See “Urban Agriculture in Providence,” a publication of the Urban Agriculture Policy Task Force initiated by Southside Community Land Trust/Citywide Green. There are hundreds, if not thousands, of vacant lots in Providence. Join a community garden, and “put that slacker land to work!”
American women were active on every front of the War Garden movement during World War I. Much of the government-sponsored media and propaganda was directed squarely at mothers, teachers, college students, alumnae networks, volunteers, working women, and farm families. Advertisers targeted female consumers with seed catalogs, recipe books, advertisements, etc. As shoppers and preparers of food, women seized the opportunity to reshape the American agricultural industry–and the military budget–with their spending, their gardening, and their food conservation.
At home, women plowed, sowed, and harvested backyard vegetable gardens and canned their produce. At schools, female teachers and principals oversaw children’s gardens and educated American youth about patriotism and conservation. In the community garden and in the factory yard, women and men worked side by side.
Above and beyond the various elective gardening efforts, more than 20,000 women participated in a new national program which supported large-scale agricultural production. The Woman’s Land Army of America (WLAA) was organized in April 1918 to train and organize women to work in agricultural jobs vacated by men serving in the military. It followed the example of the Woman’s Land Army created by the British government in 1915.
Although the effort met with resistance from conservative farmers and some government officials, there was strong support in the White House. President Woodrow Wilson commended the “active and patriotic young women” of the WLAA, and First Lady Edith Bolling Wilson famously replaced the White House garden crew with a flock of sheep that grazed on the lawn. The sale of their wool raised $50,000 for the war effort.
Enlistees in the WLAA were paid for their labor at public and private farms throughout the country. A 1919 WLAA handbook called for an 8-to-12-hour work day, six days a week. Participants were required to wear farm gear, which became popularly known as “coveralls,” also known as “womanalls” or “freedomalls.”
Even with the armistice in November 1919, the Women’s Land Army of America remained in service. But as overseas military regiments were demobilized, men returned home to their jobs on the farm. Although the WLAA was dissolved in February 1920, it did much to advance standards for farm laborers and women alike. The program would be revived during World War II.
Welcome to Green Zone. This blog is dedicated to Green Zone, a garden installation located at Firehouse 13 in Providence, RI throughout summer 2008. It will also survey wartime gardens, community gardens, edible landscapes, and the like.