Planting Victory Gardens for hope and peace

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By Winona LaDuke

I am planting a Victory Garden. Well, a couple of them. They are full of heritage varieties of corn, beans, squash, potatoes, artichokes, tobacco, and hemp. There’s a hefty tomato-basil-cucumber-eggplant-and-other-produce section of the gardens, and more to come. I am planting in a time of ongoing wars. Our civil society is shaken at every level by national and international politics, climate change is making farming a crazy predicament, and Trump’s deportation of migrant agricultural workers may cost the spoilage of much of America’s agriculture. It’s time to grow for the home front.

Victory Garden: a vegetable garden, especially a home garden, planted to increase food production during a war. Answering the federal government’s challenge, by May 1943 there were 18 million victory gardens in the United States – 12 million in cities and 6 million on farms. Together, they produced almost 10 million pounds of food. In l944, that was an amount equivalent to all commercial production of fresh vegetables.

America remains in an ongoing set of wars with a growing military budget, and our society is under tremendous duress. Then there’s the immigration policy. Of the l.5 to 2 million people working in agriculture today, 50 to70% of them are undocumented farm workers, according to a report by the American Farm Bureau.

Trump has been clear about his intentions to deport 11 million undocumented immigrants in the US, while incarcerating their children. Business Insider reports that if the agriculture sector were to eliminate all undocumented workers, the US would be left with a $30 to $60 billion food production loss. (Think the film: A Day without a Mexican). I am not sure who is going to pick my avocados for me, let alone most of the food which comes from California’s Central Valley.

Due to the deportations, retail food prices could increase by 5% to 6% on average, with some categories seeing higher jumps than others. For example, the National Milk Producers Federation expects a 90% increase in milk prices if the country removes the immigrant labor supply. (This is when that Dairy Termination Program kicks us in the butt). Add to that a $603 million loss from the 2016 California drought, and the unstable weather brought to us by climate change. Sprinkle that with some bad water policies: California is using ground water in fracking operations, Nestle is sucking up groundwater in California and elsewhere to bottle. In short, I would say that food security is going to be very important this year and in upcoming years.

Gardening is about promise and hope. I grow a really old squash, I call it Gete Okosomin, or “really cool old squash”. That variety has been around 800 or more years and is well adapted for northern Minnesota. It keeps through the winter, and when opened up, there are well over a thousand seeds contained within its beautiful orange flesh.

Each year, I plant more heritage varieties and watch them grow with wonder. I have a large extended family who weeds with me, a pony we use to cultivate the land, and some soils that I am intent upon improving – after forty years of being scorched with industrial agriculture’s pesticides, herbicides and fertilizers.

In a small plot on the Ponsford Prairie, I intend to bring back an ecosystem. In two other plots, I am intent upon bringing back the hemp economy of Minnesota – that too was part of the war effort – Hemp for Victory. Minnesota had eleven hemp mills at the close of World War II. The White Earth tribal hemp crop, focused on fine textile varieties, is flourishing – well over knee high by the fourth of July. I plan to harvest and decorticate in the winter, and hope to spin that into thread by spring. I am ready for peace, and victory.
It is a wondrous time now. Mandaamin, the Anishinaabe word for corn, means wonderous seed, and in many ways reflects other world views.

Vandana Shiva, Indian physicist and political leader, reminds us that seed is sacred. In Hindi, seed is bija or “containment of life.” “Seed is created to renew, to multiply, to be shared, and to spread. Seed is life itself. … Globalized industrialized food is not cheap,” Shiva writes, “it is too costly for the Earth, for the farmers, for our health. The Earth can no longer carry the burden of groundwater mining, pesticide pollution, disappearance of species and destabilization of the climate. Farmers can no longer carry the burden of debt, which is inevitable in industrial farming with its high costs of production. It is incapable of producing safe, culturally appropriate, tasty, quality food. And it is incapable of producing enough food for all because it is wasteful of land, water and energy. Industrial agriculture uses ten times more energy than it produces. It is thus ten times less efficient.”

That understanding guides me in the Victory Garden, Mino Gitigaaning, my good garden. I have been planting my field of dreams. I started early this year, as it was 90 degrees in May, August weather. I plant for peace, and that people will have food this year and in the years ahead. I plant for victory and hope.