In all this talk of our old-school sisters and styles to emulate (or not), we left out my personal favorite old-school habit. It's one hipsters in Brooklyn try to make cool, one grandmas in Kansas never stopped doing, one even our Commander-in-Chief (along with a trusty band of know-hows) does in his own front yard ... they garden.
I'm not talking roses and daffodils gardening. I'm talking red peppers, towers of tomatoes, climbing peas that serve your family gardening. I'm talking old-school victory gardens. And we should all have one.
First I should confess: I'm no green thumb. In fact, I'm most known around our house for the untimely death of house plants and the occasional orchid. (Okay, every orchid.) But when we moved to Camp Lejeune from Manhattan, where I'd nursed an herb garden in my two window boxes for so many years I started to think a 2' by 2' garden was the norm, I realized I was going to have to step it up.
One trip to the commissary brought it home: I was going to have become a farmer.
I pictured a few rows of tomatoes, maybe some broccoli, a smattering of herbs. I fancied myself a World War II era military bride, assiduously plugging away at the ground while her husband fought the good fight overseas. While this is TOTALLY not how it actually worked out - I don't have any vintage panache, I hate getting dirty, and I don't entirely love kneeling in the ground - we did wind up with a healthy little kitchen garden while my Marine Corps husband, Bill, prepared to deploy.
The victory garden tradition harkens back to what generations of military spouses (and countless civilians) have done before us: taken a little bit of land and time to do their fair share to keep the family safe, even if that's only by making sure vegetables are on the table. In the eras of shortages, victory gardens were a vital part of the war effort. Granted, the war effort in our house is pretty limited to not losing gear between Afghanistan and base and making sure the cammies get washed, but being able to put some vegetables from the garden on the table every night seems like a worthy addition to the cause.
The homegrown revolution has taken more than just my house by storm. In 2009, 37 percent of American households had home gardens, with the White House counted among them. The White House kitchen garden goes way back. The Adams got it off the ground (and if you haven't read John Adams, you should, or listen to the audiobook - he and the Mrs. had quite an awesome love story, and she's a model military spouse: tough, tender, and totally awesome) and Jefferson's famous garden at Monticello is still being cultivated today.
In 2009, Michelle Obama and the kids from Bancroft Middle School in D.C. broke ground on their own modern victory garden in the White House's South Lawn. It involves the community. It grows cool vegetables. It grows delicious fruit! And it's all documented (quite gloriously) in American Grown, the Story of the White House Garden. The book is a beautiful photo tour of the life of the year-round, community worked, bountiful White House garden: from its inception and plotting to its growth, sustainment, and eventual destiny on the plate of many a White House supper.It also has tips for the rest of us who lack 1000 square feet to devote to a household victory garden: Beautiful garden layouts that really work (no matter how small your plot), how-to's to combat the regular garden challenges (use pesticides - even their garden isn't organic!), and really brilliant recipes for what to do with your freshly grown microcrop. My favorite is the white bean salad with shallots, radishes, and chives. It's super easy and really, really good.
If you want to get started on your own victory garden, late summer is the perfect time to start. While the days are still hot, plant broccoli, brussels sprouts, peas, and lettuces... and when the days start to turn cool, you'll be able to look outside and see your own little harvest, all ready for your American table.
(Plus, the produce at the commissary kind of sucks.)