Why Didn’t Victory Gardens Last? They weren’t Meant To.

A Transformative Garden filled with food, medicine, craft materials, native plants, wildlife habitat, that sequesters water and carbon and builds soil.

Why didn’t the Victory Gardens last? 

Honest, controversial answer: Because they were stupid. 

Everyone is saying “Americans were so stupid to give up their victory gardens!” No, our grandparents were actually really smart about this sort of thing! That’s why they quit!

In Permaculture Design, we look for “type 1 errors” systems designed to fail. Victory gardens were full of type 1 errors.

The classic Victory garden was based on an American type of horticulture that was based on slavery, agrochemicals, plastics, and fossil fuels, in a time before anybody cared at all about ecology or biodiversity, not to mention climate change, soil loss, ocean dead zones, pollution, etc. 

Those gardens didn’t last because the standard 1-size-fits-all designs were terrible, the recommended crops didn’t make sense for home gardeners, they took far too much time and resources, the labor/acre was too high, and nobody wanted to volunteer to provide low-value-low-return labor. They were a temporary fix, not a sustainable land use.

The talk about Victory Gardens is mostly misplaced nostalgia for time that was’t actually so great, and a thing that no longer exists because it was the solution to a specific problem (a war) that no longer exists. It’s basically “make America great again.” 

We don’t need “Victory” gardens because we are not in a war. I know it goes counter to the American spirit, but this isn’t a problem we can bomb our way out of. And this “bomb the problem” thinking might actually make this problem worse. 

Because our problem is really a whole host of symptoms being driven by the underlying problem of humans out of balance with ecosystems, which is causing climate change, war, oppression, soil loss, a mass extinction event, the diseases of civilization, and yes, anthropogenic infectious illnesses like Covid19 (and this is probably going to be a heck of a summer for lyme disease and EEE.) 

If the problem is “food scarcity” and we fix it by “growing more food” at the expense of carbon, soil, water, ecosystems and biodiversity, then we’re only going to make ALL our problems worse, and there will be more pandemics and more food scarcity. 

So we don’t need ”Victory gardens” we need “Transformative gardens,” that are based on holistic thinking, not problem-solution thinking. Because what we need to do is to transform our society into something that is just, healthy, and sustainable for all. 

We need healthy ecosystems that simultaneously grow food, sequester carbon, steward biodiversity, care for soil, reduce pollution, provide wildlife habitat, catch and clean water, and care for people by not requiring a bunch of hard labor , corporate seeds, and costly chemicals. We need gardens that harvest their own water, use lots of perennials and tree crops, minimize tiling, and integrate lots of natives and habitat plants. 

What we need is to start transforming the systems we use to meet our needs so that we aren’t causing all of these problems in the first place.

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