STONINGTON — Harkening back to when growing your own food was not just a pastime but a civic duty, the "Victory Garden" is making a comeback in the time of the coronavirus as a way for local residents to not only to grow fresh, healthy vegetables, fruits and herbs, but also to stave off food insecurity and increase self-sufficiency.
“I have always had a garden, it's just what we’ve always done,” said Andrea Trubia, of Mystic, who feeds her family throughout the year with the bounty from her own backyard. “Gardening is getting back to the earth. Don’t be afraid to enjoy playing in the soil and getting your hands dirty. It’s a very rewarding experience."
Throughout history, whenever trying times have plagued the country, one of the first calls to action have been Victory Gardens, sometimes called War Gardens or Food Gardens for Defense. They have proven to be an easy, accessible way to keep people fed, active, productive and more self-reliant.
In the early 1940s, 40 percent of the nation’s food was grown in Victory Gardens. In current times, with food insecurity growing, unemployment at an all-time high and the uncertainties surrounding the country's industrial agricultural system, more and more people are turning to their own backyards to plant mainstay staples such as tomatoes, beans, potatoes and anything and everything green, leafy and good for you.
“I love to plant potatoes because it’s like a surprise every time you dig for them. I feel like a little kid because you never know what you are going to dig up," said Trubia, who is just finishing up last year's strawberry crop in time for this year's bounty.
In addition to growing her own vegetables, fruits and herbs, Trubia also painstakingly cans, freezes and preserves her goods. In addition to things like garlic, green beans and blackberry jams, she also takes great pride in her strawberry basil ice cream.
“I really enjoy doing all of it, from the planting and harvesting to the cooking,” said Trubia. Her friend Maryann Buckley, who is the North Stonington Garden Club president and a master gardener, is ramping up her own gardens this year as a way to sustain her needs and make fewer trips to the grocery store.
“It’s very rewarding getting back into the soil,” Buckley said. “There is definitely a reason why gardeners are healthy people, and it's not just because they eat what they grow, but because they are outdoors, getting Vitamin D and working hard.”
Buckley's tips for first-time gardeners are to keep it simple, add wire fencing to the bottom of your garden bed to prevent critters like voles from coming up through the soil to get your goods and start with easy things to grow, like herbs and tomatoes.
"There is nothing like a vine-ripened tomato from your own garden,” said Buckley. Some of her other favorites include her asparagus bed, which she said takes several years to develop but well worth the effort and her lettuce, peas and broccoli.
“Growing a garden is great for kids, so they can see where their food comes from and they get a chance to experience and understand the natural cycle of things,” Trubia said. “We use our compost to feed the garden and then the garden feeds us. I also harvest the seeds from the garden to plant next year’s garden, so it all works together.”
She encourages people to start their own gardens and not to be afraid.
“You don’t have to have a lot of space or money. In most cases you can get free seeds from the libraries and start like that if you don’t have means,” said Trubia.
There are also garden clubs in both North Stonington and Stonington which are also great resources for garden tips and inspiration, as well as Master Gardener classes offered at the University of Rhode Island.