VINTAGE: A Victory Garden poster from 1943 that was created by the U.S. Office of War Information. (Image courtesy University of North Texas )

DOWNTOWN — In 1940, “The Victory Gardens Leaders Handbook” was published to encourage Americans to grow their own food, with straightforward how-to lessons in planning and starting a garden, saving seeds and canning vegetables from backyards and community spaces.

Tin was hard to come by, canned foods were disappearing from shelves and fresh produce was scarce because there were soldiers and a war effort to feed. Food rationing had begun, and the call went out to start “Victory Gardens” in the name of patriotism. Nearly 20 million Americans responded to the challenge: Victory Gardens were estimated to grow up to 40 percent of all the vegetable produce being consumed nationally at the time.

In 2012, we face wars on other fronts: climate change, drought, genetic modification resulting in crop-killing superbugs and weeds, consolidation of the seed supply, soil depletion from chemical pesticides and fertilizers, political polarization preventing passage of a farm bill, and a stock market that bets on future prices of produce and livestock. With childhood diabetes on the rise and an epidemic of obesity, we need healthier diets and more nutritious foods.

Sounds like an active call for a 21st century Victory Garden effort — and, just in time, it’s here!

Empowering people once again to “grow their own” and now in its third year, The Grow LA Victory Garden Initiative (GLAVG) offers four-week, low-cost classes in gardening basics throughout Los Angeles County. Classes are taught by University of California Cooperative Extension (UCCE) L.A. County Master Gardener program volunteer instructors.

Taught seasonally in fall and spring, the current crop of 25 classes includes three on the Westside: beginning Sept. 29 at Santa Monica High School; and starting Oct. 6 at Venice Community Garden and in West L.A. at University High School.

Yvonne Savio, director of the UCCE L.A. County Master Gardener program, said the need for the initiative was propelled by the public.

“The bad news of the economy, publicity on diabetes and obesity all resulted in many more requests for our help in ‘How do I grow a garden?’ We were determined to offer the public basic gardening classes throughout L.A. County,” Savio said.

Classes cover the basics in seed starting, transplanting, healthy soil, backyard and worm composting, weed and pest management, container gardens, beneficial insects, propagation, harvesting and more. Prior attendees called the workshops “life changing” and said they “loved interacting and meeting with people who are just as passionate about social change and food security as myself.”

Savio’s goals for the initiative include community building: “We hope that gardeners will register for the class session that’s close to them, so they can join an ongoing local Neighborhood Garden Circle to share not only their excess produce, but their knowledge and experiences as well.”

The series at Santa Monica High School beginning this Saturday is led by master gardeners Julie Strnad of Mar Vista, and Lucia Burke of Santa Monica.

Strnad has been a master gardener since 1997 and has racked up more than 1,000 hours of volunteer time. With her specialty presentation on container gardening, she’s trained other master gardeners as well as teaching at community gardens and in low-income communities; she volunteers with the Las Doradas Early Childhood Education Center in the Oakwood section of Venice; and her home garden has been twice featured on the Mar Vista Green Gardens tour.

Burke, a native of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, is a professional garden designer and installer focusing on kitchen gardens, who works with the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District as school garden coordinator at Samohi and Olympic High School. She also worked for three years at Virginia Robinson Gardens in Beverly Hills. In 2007, she received her certificate from the Gardening and Horticulture Program at UCLA Extension.

The classes are $55 for the series or $15 per class; contact lucia.burke@verizon.net to register.

Savio maintains an active e-mail list that the general public can join. Anyone interested in gardening is invited to join either or both of her resource e-lists: 1) Community Gardening and Food Security; 2) School Gardening. Send her an e-mail at ydsavio@ucanr.edu.

For Grow LA Victory Gardens class locations and registration information visit celosangeles.ucdavis.edu/Common_Ground_Garden_Program/Grow_LA_Victory_Garden_Initiative_Classes.

 

 

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