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Gardens for Humanity: Creating a Healthy Local Food System

During World War II there were nearly 20,000,000 Victory Gardens across the U.S. producing about 40 percent of all the vegetables consumed during the war years. Of all the home front contributions to the war effort, these gardens were a staple of what average Americans could do at home to provide a dependable and fresh food supply. Many farm workers had enlisted, and farms had to get by without their normal workforce.

Today, we have a global climate crisis and wars disrupting the food supply. We may not feel it since most of our supermarkets have well-stocked shelves. However, all of us in the Verde Valley depend on food imported from thousands of miles away. If any supply lines are cut or an unforeseen climate or political emergency hinders access, what will we do? We have already seen a price hike on many foods as a result of higher transportation, availability, and production costs, and during the COVID pandemic some of our food supplies were at risk.

Home gardening has taken off since the pandemic threatened food security and forced millions of Americans to stay home. According to surveys and statistics more than 20 million Americans took up gardening for the first time in 2020. This was a response comparable to World War II.

As a member of the Verde Valley Food Policy Council, Gardens for Humanity has been working with our partners to lay the foundation, values, and priorities of a secure local food system. Such a food system would provide a fresh, healthy food supply for people of all income and social conditions in our region. The word “food system” is key since food production and distribution depend on systems that impact and connect economies, land use, soil, water, transportation, jobs, and the health of people and the environment.

The Food Policy Council has submitted Food System Recommendations to Yavapai County to be included in the next ten-year Comprehensive Plan they are now considering. This was absent from their previous plan. A healthy community food system includes food production, processing, distribution, access, and waste. Our vision statement for our recommendations is, “All residents and visitors to Yavapai County enjoy widespread access to nutritious and affordable food through regional agricultural growers, food processors, distributors, and food waste recovery services that contribute to economic prosperity, a sustainable natural environment, and community health.” Find out more: Cornucopiaca.org/verde-valley-food-policy-council/. Contact Yavapai County Supervisors asking them to adopt these recommendations.

A common saying characterizing environmental concerns, “Think globally and act locally,” is highly relevant to the food system. We all eat and make food choices, and this has far-reaching and systemic influence. In addition, this is key to our empowerment as change-makers. Our personal choices can make a positive (or negative) contribution to the well-being of our community and beyond.

A source of hope is engaging with local gardeners and farmers. Gardens for Humanity saw this as many responded to the pandemic by contacting us about starting a home garden. The Verde Thumbs Garden Club that we sponsor, as well as several other local garden clubs, provided a valuable network of garden resources.

To meet the increased demand for information we also created a special page on our website: GardensForHumanity.org/start-a-garden/. We can all play a part in a secure local food system.

Richard Sidy is president of Gardens for Humanity, a founding member of the Sustainability Alliance and a member of the Verde Valley Food Policy Council. To reach him, email richardvsidy@mac.com.

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