Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Vacant Lot Gardening Association 1918

A friend, Alice, is an historian and journalist. She's just sent me several news items from the London (Ontario) Advertiser of 1918.

this excerpt is from June 11, 1918

'Nearly 500 lots are being cultivated this year under the direction of the London Vacant Lot Gardening Association. Practically all the vacant land in the city has been utilized. ... The smallest number of lots being cultivated in any one ward this year is more than twice the number planted in all four wards last year ... Plans are already being discussed for making the campaign next year even more successful ... Efficient work has been accomplished by Ald. S.R. Manness, F.R. Watkinson, W.A. Wilson and L.S. Holmes, as chairmen of the four wards, with the assitance of their committees. ... About 175 lots have been secured in Ward 3 by Ald. Watkinson. In addition to this the employees of many of the large firms in the east end are cultivating land supplied by the companies. Street railway employees are planting twelve acres with potatoes; McClary employees are gardening about ten acres; the McCormick Manufacturing Company has donated nearly seven acres for the use of their employees; Beatty Bros.' employees have a large tract in Chelsea Green, which they are farming in an effort to beat the Hun and the high cost of living. The weather so far has been favorable for the amateur gardeners, and the crops are all doing well. Many have been supplying their tables with home-grown lettuce, radishes, etc., for some time, and this fall will see numerous cellars full of potatoes and other vegetables.'

Another article indicates that there was a Vacant Lot Gardening Association in 1917, as well ... take note that WWI took place from 1914 - 1918.

I'm not sure if many Canadians realize what 'rationing' is. During World War I and II resources like metals and paper, and food, were rationed in Canada. In regards to food, some food had to be shipped from Canada to feed Canadian soldiers; and there were fewer male agricultural workers around. So, food production had to make changes. Growing fresh food in cities, like here in London, Ontario, was the logical thing. I'm betting a lot of women got even more involved in gardening (but I'll have to do some research on that one with Alice).

I'm only 54 years old, and not too up on history ... so my first thoughts about war rationing have to do with Britain and WWII, and I admit that a lot of my ideas come from mystery books. To me, food rationing was something that happened 'long ago and far away'.

From the clippings I received, it seems that my idea about food shortages and what had to be done, are, indeed, a fairy tale. Food shortages have been a real part of the City that I live in, right here, in Canada. And people figured out how to handle it. In back yard and vacant lot gardens.

Right now, here in London, there is an established community garden program. It has expanded over the last years and has a waiting list; I think there are something like 400 plots. I don't know what London's population was in 1918, but ... if any sort of crisis comes along, we have quite a way to go to get gardening and feed people! The current, established program is undergoing review to make it better, and it is hoped that the gardeners will be more included in running the program. There is also interest in developing other garden projects/groups in the city.

Over the next few years there is going to be a tremendous increase in the number of people who have home vegetable gardens. Certainly some of this will come as people realize the cost savings and health factors of fresh, organic food. But other interest will come as people realize the environmental costs in fossil fuel used for transportation, and what are called agricultural inputs (synthetic fertilizer and pesticides). I think there will be a real stress on individuals and communities as fuel prices go up and climate change becomes even more evident. And yes, this does take this jotting back to that Transition London Ontario group I mentioned another time. Next Wednesday, March 17, we're inviting people to get together to talk about:
how can we localize our food supply so we can become more resilient and self-sufficient, and how do we know what to do to make the localization a reality? This will be 7:00 p.m., Centre Branch library on Dundas Street.

With gardening on my mind during the sunny, mild weather, I'm balancing the sheer joy of thinking about seeds and new plants with some serious thoughts about how I'll get ready for the future that is beyond this year's harvest.

And thank you Alice, for the inspiration and proof that communities can get themselves organized and grow food.

Why's Woman

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