In the 1930s several state Extension offices promoted a program called "Living at Home." Beginning in 1931, many families realized that filled pantry shelves"/>
In the 1930s several state Extension offices promoted a program called "Living at Home." Beginning in 1931, many families realized that filled pantry shelves"/> LIFE ON THE FARM | News, Sports, Jobs - Farm News
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By Staff | Feb 16, 2009

I imagine that the seed catalogs are having a bumper crop of business this year. So many people unemployed, so many people worried about food safety, it would seem natural to resort to gardening.

It wouldn’t be the first time that has happened in history. Remember victory gardens during World War II? Pick up any book about the 1930s and a common theme would be “if it weren’t for that garden, we would have starved.”

In the 1930s several state Extension offices promoted a program called “Living at Home.” Beginning in 1931, many families realized that filled pantry shelves would be their best insurance against hunger during the winter. Farm families renewed their interests in gardens, producing and canning food.

Extension offices provided demonstrations on food preservation including butchering. From my reading in a 1931 Year of Agriculture book, it seems these programs were more prevalent in the southern states than the Midwest.

But I doubt that most folks would pick up the garden hobby. For me that is hard to believe. When I married I knew that we would be gardening. A first garden can be a bit intimidating, but I relied on help from my husband and his parents to learn the ins and outs of gardening. They were very patient and encouraging.

It was a natural place for our children to be. When younger they had their own little gardens, they took pride in keeping clean, choosing strawberry varieties. A favorite trip was down to Gurneys at Yankton, S.D., to pick up the seeds and plants for that year when they held their half price seed days. It is a good memory.

Working along side us, planting seeds, pulling weeds, picking the fruit of our labor, eating it fresh and putting enough up to see us through the winter, my children learned a lot. Even now, the bulk of the food we eat in the winter is from our garden. Hundreds of jars filled with a variety of foodstuffs and freezer containers provide sustenance for us.

Is that green or what? Fruit jars are used year-after-year. What a novel idea that food is grown just yards from where it would be eaten. In this world where we now worry about our footprint on nature, gardening would seem to qualify as a harmonious activity.

That is easy for me to say because gardening is definitely something I thoroughly enjoy. The sunshine warms up these old bones that get so chilled during the wintry months. The anticipation of touching the soil so vibrant with nutrients for growing a crop gets stronger as I see these snow banks diminishing faster than I ever thought possible this week.

There is a marvelous enjoyment, satisfaction that comes from planting a seed, watching it grow. Iowa’s soil and climate are suitable for an endless array of food. Nothing beats the taste.

Common sense tells us it is a good idea to garden, especially following all the news about food safety concerns, availability and price.

My other philosophy is that I hate to pay good money for something I can do myself, especially using money that my husband labored hard to ear. Radical idea, I know.

Non gardeners will claim that a garden takes too much time and work. I think its more what you choose to spend your time and energy on. Everyone has 24 hours in a day, cross off eight for sleep that leaves 16 hours.

Recently, a fellow gardener shared a copy of The Heirloom Gardener magazine with me. In there is an article about a movement to grow organic gardening in Australia.

Clive Blazey has started the ‘Digger’s Club’ encouraging a new generation to fight for healthy, pure food in a world dominated by multinational food corporations.

Blazey says it is possible to plant, maintain and harvest a sustainable garden with just six hours of work each week. That is a figure I may argue with, because I know we can spend all day in our garden. But then who wouldn’t want to be out doors on a sunny warm day?

As primary cook in the house, I spend a lot of time thinking of food, attempting to prepare nutritious, nourishing food for my family and those who occasionally join us. That probably qualifies me as more of a “Foodie” than I thought. Given the opportunity I would rather be outside hoeing than being a TV view-ee or sports watch-ee .

But I doubt the economy or hunger pains have gotten strong enough that people will pick up gardening as a way to supply one of their basic needs.

Somewhere it got easier to demand the government take care of our very basic needs instead of doing for ourselves. This mindset, when followed, robs us of personal satisfaction in a job well done and takes away from our personal dignity.

Contact Renae Vander Schaaf by e-mail at

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