Extension and Ag Research News


Prairie Fare: Victory gardens make sense in modern times

Gardening offers many benefits for health.

I meet interesting people on planes. My last trip returning from Washington, D.C., to Chicago was not an exception.

Two men were sitting in the aisle and center seats as I made my way to my window seat. I noticed that the older gentleman had a bit of a challenge with mobility. He had been on the Honor Flight for military veterans living in Minnesota. His group had visited all the monuments, and his grandson had pushed him in a wheelchair.

I told him about my community band that welcomes returning Honor Flight veterans. As we talked, we discovered that we had a common acquaintance. We grew up about an hour from each other. That was quite a coincidence.

He told me about his first flight in Korea, when his plane was barely holding together. I was hoping our modern-day plane was in good mechanical condition. Flying still makes me a bit nervous.

I had just visited the Smithsonian Museum of American History, so I was intrigued to hear firsthand from a 91-year-old veteran. While at the museum, I saw the original American flag and the artifacts of several wars. I also saw Julia Child’s kitchen, Archie Bunker’s chair and Dorothy’s ruby slippers.

I was especially intrigued by the museum information about the first and second World Wars, in which my grandfather and dad had participated.

During World War II, the “Basic 7” comprised the nutrition guidance of the time. The groups included 1) green and yellow vegetables; 2) oranges, tomatoes and grapefruit; 3) potatoes and other vegetables; 4) milk and milk products; 5) meat, poultry, fish and eggs; and 6) bread, flour and cereals.

I was a little surprised by group 7: butter and fortified margarine. Yes, butter was a food group. The early nutritionists did say to “use in moderation.”

Interestingly, in those early years, people were much less likely to be overweight. They ate simple whole foods, cooked their meals at home, and probably had more physically demanding jobs than many of us. “Ultraprocessed” packaged foods with long ingredient lists did not exist back then.

During World Wars I and II, people were encouraged to plant “victory gardens” including vegetables, fruits and herbs at homes and in public settings. Gardens appeared in city parks and playgrounds and surrounded churches. These early generations were encouraged by slogans such as “health for victory.”

These gardens were ways for citizens to help with the war effort by being self-sufficient on American soil. People were encouraged to eat less fat, sugar, meat and wheat so food could be sent to Europe, which was facing food shortages. Growing your own food was a way to feed your family.

I am sure that my predecessors in Cooperative Extension were teaching people how to plant, tend, prepare and preserve the bounty more than 100 years ago. Besides providing food for families, helping in the war effort also lifted community spirits.

Early generations were masters at avoiding food waste. They saved seeds from their harvest and grew more food the next year.

If you did not grow up gardening, consider learning something new. You can volunteer in community gardens, grow food and donate to local food pantries, visit a farmers market to support local food markets, or become a master gardener through classes from Cooperative Extension throughout the U.S.

Try growing a salsa garden with tomatoes, onions and peppers, or a pizza garden with herbs, tomatoes and peppers. Growing a “three sisters” garden with corn, beans and squash is common in Native American culture. If you have limited space, how about growing food in pots on a deck or a step? A pollinator garden can attract bees that are essential for food production.

Could you grow some vegetables as a part of your landscape? Yes, you can. If you have arthritis, be aware that adaptive tools are available. In fact, those two topics were covered by our horticulture experts in this year’s Field to Fork webinars.

See www.ag.ndsu.edu/fieldtofork to view more than 80 recorded sessions from a variety of experts on numerous topics, including growing, preparing and preserving food safely.

Sitting by a veteran and visiting the American History museum reminded me of my collection of 1940s-era cookbooks. I paged through them when I returned to my desk.

This recipe is from the “Health-for-Victory Club” meal planning guide published by the Home Economics Institute of the Westinghouse Electric and Manufacturing Company in 1943. I slightly adapted the wording, but it reminds me of a salad I grew up eating fresh from our garden.

Lettuce, Spinach and Onion Salad (from 1943)

Rinse spinach and leaf lettuce carefully. Tear large leaves into smaller pieces. Rinse then slice spring onions thinly and mix with greens. If desired, rinse then finely slice fresh radishes to add color to your salad.

Evaporated Milk Dressing
1/2 cup sugar
1/3 cup apple cider vinegar
1/2 cup evaporated milk
1/4 teaspoon salt

Add sugar to vinegar and stir until sugar dissolves. Beat in milk until mixture thickens. Serve with leafy greens.

Note: You can freeze remaining evaporated milk in a freezer bag or container and use within six months for best quality.

Two cups of mixed salad greens has less than 20 calories. One eighth of the dressing recipe has 70 calories, 1 gram (g) fat, 1 g protein, 14 g carbohydrate, 0 g fiber and 90 milligrams sodium.

(Julie Garden-Robinson, Ph.D., R.D., L.R.D., is a North Dakota State University Extension food and nutrition specialist and professor in the Department of Health, Nutrition and Exercise Sciences.)

NDSU Agriculture Communication – April 25, 2024

Source: Julie Garden-Robinson, 701-231-7187, julie.garden-robinson@ndsu.edu

Editor: Elizabeth Cronin, 701-231-7006, elizabeth.cronin@ndsu.edu


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