GRuB’s garden building programs have been a cornerstone of our work since 1993, when our parent program the Kitchen Garden Project started sprouting raised bed gardens in backyards all over southwestern Washington. Our mission is growing healthy food, people, and community, and nothing else quite brings that all together as a GRuB backyard garden build. Over the years, we’ve seen thousands of local families grow their own agency and abundance as they’ve expanded the resources, skills, and knowledge to raise their own food.
That’s a very real kind of wealth, as the COVID-19 pandemic has amply reminded us. In fact, since the pandemic began, interest in home gardening has shot up across the nation. With stay-at-home orders, lost household income, grocery stores under stress, food supply chains stretched thin, and everybody worried about the health and vitality of our bodies, many have a renewed interest in growing their own food. Daily we’re hearing from gardeners about the joy, purpose, and solace they find in the gardens and their deep satisfaction in providing for themselves, their neighbors, and their families.That’s why we’ve doubled down on our Victory Garden Project. We’re aiming to build an extra 100 backyard gardens this year.
But the name. Recently we’ve begun rethinking the Victory Garden name (it was only 2017 when GRuB adopted it for our backyard garden program). “Victory Gardens” have history. There’s been something of a national buzz about them during the current pandemic, calling to memory the can-do response of U.S. civilians to support the war efforts of World Wars I and II. “Victory Garden” evokes the very qualities of agency, resourcefulness, and interdependence that are the heart of GRuB’s mission. It also honors the leadership of military veterans at GRuB and the many positive impacts that members of the armed services have experienced in growing food and gardens for themselves and others.
But we’ve been learning there’s another, shadow side to the history of Victory Gardens. Prior to World War II, Japanese-Americans comprised a large percentage of vegetable farmers in the U.S. Due to the racist federal policy of interning Japanese-Americans in concentration camps, the country faced a shortage of produce, one of the key motivators of the Victory Garden movement during World War II. Therefore when we celebrate the freedom, community, and resourcefulness of Victory Gardens, we must also acknowledge the racially-based removal of more than 100,000 Americans from their land and their livelihoods
The term “victory” means many things. When GRuB applied it to several of our core programs, we meant to evoke the kind of grit, resilience, and community spirit that have inspired people throughout history to overcome incredible challenges together. But “victory” also often implies the triumph, conquest, or domination of one group over another. As a nonprofit dedicated to growing healthy food, people, and community, we are also situated historically and geographically amidst legacies of slavery, the forced removal of Indigenous Peoples from their lands, military occupations, and white racist immigration practices, all of which are about who has access to land, agency over their own bodies and labor, and resources to grow food for their families and others. These racially-based historical and personal traumas have compounded across generations into health and wealth disparities today.
Yes, GRuB builds backyard gardens. But the depth of our mission is looking at who does–and does not–have access to healthy food and land and then working for a truly just distribution of those precious resources. Every day, for instance, we remember that all 3,000 gardens we’ve ever built are on Indigenous lands, even as many First Nations people face food disparities related to displacement from land and community. It’s in this context that we are now called to reevaluate the name of our Victory Garden Project and Victory Farm. What is GRuB’s responsibility to the legacy of harm associated with the “Victory Garden” movement? Is renaming our programs one part of that responsibility, together with other substantive steps?
As we prepare to build those extra 100 backyard gardens this year, we have an opportunity to take intentional steps towards healing the past and creating a new future. Can we redouble our commitment to making sure grocery workers, farmworkers, health providers, and other essential workers all have nourishing foods at home? Can our gardens help restore the agency and sovereignty of people whose bodies and lands (or their ancestors’ bodies and lands) were taken over by others? Can we bring together people whose lives have been disrupted by war and colonization to build something new? Of course we can! Together GRuB and all its wonderful supporters are writing our own chapter in the story that will be told generations from now.
If you are interested in sharing your experience or joining our conversation about renaming our programs, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.