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Victory gardens are truly back — just Ask Kitty

85-year-old columnist Kitty Schindler wasn’t surprised when readers responded enthusiastically to her call for a return to the victory gardens of her youth. But she was surprised at how quickly first lady Michelle Obama took up the movement.
/ Source: TODAY

I wasn’t too surprised when many readers responded enthusiastically to my previous column about victory gardens, the home-gardening movement that took hold in America during World War II for both patriotic and practical reasons. “Victory gardens are great!” Jo Kurtz wrote from Princeton, Idaho. “Let’s start with the White House!”

But I was surprised at how quickly that actually happened. Last Friday Michelle Obama picked up a rake and broke ground for the first garden on the White House grounds in many decades.

Mrs. Obama told the 26 schoolchildren assembled to help her that daughters Sasha and Malia prefer their vegetables fresh, like the ones my father grew in our garden when I was a little girl. Amen, Michelle! And amen to Alice Waters, the influential chef who helped start the movement toward fresh, locally produced food and away from processed fast food, who has been calling for a White House garden for years.

And amen to Jo Kurtz, too, who adds, “Let’s see some urban gardens in the vacant lots in cities.” I agree: Not only do they make fresh produce available to city dwellers, they’re also a lot nicer to look at than empty lots strewn with garbage.

Even if you don’t have access to a lot of open space, you can still try to take advantage of whatever room you have. Just ask another Kitty — a nice reader in Seward, Neb., who mentions that her family is facing a layoff. “We live in a duplex, but I am thinking I will do a raised bed or planters, and every little bit will help.” That’s the spirit, Kitty. Keep your chin up, and the very best of luck.

The egg and IBHodosh in Montebello, N.Y., wants to take urban agriculture a step further — all the way to urban poultry farming: “You may want to mention keeping chickens. They’re inexpensive, easy, fun, require little space and are legal to keep, even in many suburban and urban areas ... Eggs are not only one of nature’s perfect foods, but are also regarded as one of the most flexible cooking ingredients.”

As I mentioned in my first column, pretty much everyone in my little town near Scranton, Pa., raised chickens when I was a little girl, and my uncle raised turkeys, too. But even in the far more urban setting of Buffalo, N.Y., where I attended nursing school during the World War II era, many folks kept chickens. And just last month, the city council of Portland, Maine, voted to rescind a long-standing rule and allow residents to keep up to six hens. Advocates for the proposal cited Alice Waters’ “locavore” movement toward keeping food sources as close to home as possible, and also pointed out that chickens eat garden pests and are an abundant source of fertilizer.

However, the city council is not allowing Portland residents to keep roosters, a sentiment I heartily endorse. In my experience, if you’re going to live around roosters, you’d better plan on being an early riser. And chickens do have their disadvantages. When I lived in Buffalo, my future father-in-law decided to try his hand at raising poultry and installed a few hens in his garage. He was none too pleased when they proceeded to roost in the rafters — which made a convenient vantage from which to produce fertilizer all over his beloved Lincoln.

Fortunately, fresh vegetables do not loudly greet the dawn, nor are they likely to befoul your automobile. Instead they will add balance to your diet and flavor to your life, as Glenda in Layton, Utah, attests: “There is nothing like the taste of a fresh, home-grown tomato! I certainly hope it catches on everywhere. It would not only enhance our food supply but teach our children how to work.”

I’m sure the first lady agrees with you, Glenda; that’s why she had schoolkids helping her start the new White House garden. I’m equally sure Alice Waters agrees — her Edible Schoolyard project is designed to fight the childhood obesity epidemic by encouraging children to grow their own produce to eat in school cafeterias.

So it’s official now — the victory garden is back. And spring has officially sprung, too, so it’s time to get out in your yard, your patio or your community, and start digging in!

For more information about starting your own victory garden, visit:

Kitty Schindler, 85, grew up one of 10 children of a Pennsylvania coal miner during the Depression. Now she shares her perspectives on staying afloat during challenging times with readers. If you have a question for Kitty or a tip of your own to share, send her an e-mail! To Ask Kitty, click .