local cukes keep ypsi-arbor cool

I’ve been getting a lot of great letters these past few days on the subject of Victory Gardens. The idea really seems to be resonating with people. Here, with the author’s permission, is one such letter. It comes from our friend Homeless Dave in Ann Arbor:

…I just finished putting the magic beans Royer Held (Project Grow) gave me a couple of months ago into their starter containers. And I was reminded of his parting sentiment from (our discussion) which I’ve appended to the end of this email to save you the trouble of rummaging all the way through his Talk. Basically he weighed in pretty strong for fuel conservation through growing local as a means to mitigate global warming.

I can’t make it over to (the Corner Brewery) this Thursday, but wanted to throw my two cents at you. As far as the specific marketing of this Victory Garden effort goes, I’d steer clear of the label ‘Victory Garden’ and the language of ‘fighting global warming’. I don’t think drawing an analogy to war is going to be effective, even if it’s true that it SHOULD require the same kind of mobilization of resources that a ‘war’ requires. Wasn’t it Jimmy Carter who described the energy crisis as the ‘moral equivalent of war’, which was widely analyzed as the worst marketing strategy ever?

Instead of asking what this effort is against, I’d suggest asking what this effort is FOR? I think it’s for COOLING. There’s plenty of vegetables beginning with ‘C’: corn, cucumbers, cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, celery, collards, chili peppers.

So I’m thinking the pattern, “Local [vegetable name] keeps [location name] cool.” would work as a nice alliterative slogan. E.g., “Local Cukes keep Ypsi Cool.” Just as I type this, I have a sense of deja vu that I’ve actually seen that somewhere before.

As for what you call the gardens themselves, I don’t have a lot of strong ideas to offer. Maybe ‘Cooling Gardens’? Or perhaps Agricultural Cool could be worked into the lexicon of this program. “How do you stop Global Warming? Turn on the AC–the Agricultural Cool, that is.”

Anyway, in general, I’d suggest focusing away from these allusions to war and fighting. People are exhausted of war. They’re not shopping for a war. At least I’m not. So that’s why I don’t want to call my little bean patch a Victory Garden.


RH: Well, you know I was thinking about this talk for a long time and one of the things that has been on my mind of late has been the need for there to be more gardening going on, mainly on account of global warming and the use of petroleum in general. The Sustainability Institute of Michigan was saying that 20 percent of our petroleum use is attributable to food production. And that’s through not only the cultivating it and the …

HD: … growing of it, but the transportation of the food from where it’s grown to where it’s eaten?

RH: Right. And I don’t hear anybody talking about trying to localize that especially as a means to alleviate the use of the energy and the contribution to global warming. I mean, it’s a relatively easy thing to do. You know, there are a lot of opportunities if you really want to do something local.

I agree with Dave, and I love his “cool” concept, but, given Ypsi’s somewhat dubious distinction as a so-called “Cool City,” I don’t know how well we’d be served by picking up the “We’re Cool” banner and running with it. Whether or not we choose to adopt “cool” as a central message, however, I think Dave raises a very good point. It’s better to be for something than against something. As for the “Victory Garden” concept, I wasn’t thinking of it in terms of the war in Iraq. I wasn’t thinking that we should tear up our lawns in order to plant gardens because it would free up resources that we could use in Baghdad. I was thinking more of the war against climate change. I can see how someone could interpret this campaign, given the historical context associated with the name, as having something to do with the war in Iraq though. Either way, I think it’s worthy of discussion, and I’d love to hear your thoughts. My sense is that the good associations with “Victory Gardens” (i.e. a community pulling together for the greater good) outweigh the negative, but I could be convinced otherwise.

And, here’s a second note. This one comes from Nadine in Hamtramck.

…how is your victory garden initiative?

i’m interested because we started a new community garden here in hamtramck. we joined the local Garden Resource Program Collaborative. the program is incredible. soil testing, tilling, seeds, soil, compost, transplant crops, workshops, classes, volunteers, tools…they try to give us everything we need. community/school gardens join for only $20, and families can join for $5. whatta deal! we have more seeds than we use in a single season…

our harvest is intended to benefit low-income families in Hamtramck…

How cool is that? Check out the Garden Resource Program Collaborative link if you get a chance… And, if you’re up for it, plan on coming out to the Corner Brewery this Thursday night at 7:00 to discuss how we might be able to get more gardens growing where Ypsi-Arbor lawns used to be.

Oh, and here’s one last note. This one comes from a student at Carnegie Mellon named Rosemarie.

I ran across your blog about the Michigan Victory Garden campaign the other day while researching Victory Gardens for my Urban Farming course at Carnegie Mellon University. For a final project, I’m proposing the concept of a Traveling Neighborhood Farmer, a mobile farmer who grows on private separate plots of land compared to a larger centralized plot of land. Considering your interest in gardening, I would appreciate it if you could review my brief project concept and provide any sort of comments, reactions or suggestions. I am currently conducting a survey to assess gardening practices and interest in such a service. Your feedback would be greatly appreciated.

“Amid increasing concerns about industrial food production and pesticide use, there is a growing interest in local food production, backyard ‘Victory Gardens’ and community garden plots. While many would like to have access to fresh local produce and perhaps grow their own food, individuals may be hesitant about learning to garden, may lose interest in their garden, or simply lack time to devote to supporting a garden. Enter the concept of the traveling neighborhood farmer.

Imagine your neighborhood or suburb had a local farmer that instead of growing on a fixed plot of land, traveled on bike and farmed on privately-owned property sites. Similar to a traveling lawn-care or lawn-fertilizer service, the neighborhood farmer would travel to your site, install, plant, maintain and harvest produce on your site. Frequency of visits would depend on plot size and duties needed. Perhaps you only want a farmer to help you set up your plot, assess your soil/sun situation, or answer your planting/growing/pest questions. Perhaps you’d like a farmer to drop by once a week and check on things. Perhaps the farmer does all the work on your plot. Perhaps a group of neighbors get together and hire the farmer to tend to a shared garden. The farmer can then act as a traveling point of contact between these various mini farm plot owners, plant a variety of plants amongst the plots and encouraging plot owners to communicate.

This concept is not meant to surpass the efficiency of larger farmed spaces. It does introduce some efficiency as the produce does not have larger distances from soil to table. Rather it is meant to help re-introduce planting and gardening to those that may be hesitant about how to start or lack time to devote to a thriving garden.”

Once again, thank you for any feedback you might be able to offer on this concept. Your response is greatly appreciated.

I thought the idea was brilliant and asked her if I could share it here. I was thinking that you might have some thoughts for her… So, what do you think?

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  1. muppster
    Posted May 2, 2007 at 12:10 am | Permalink

    yeah, so we (growing hope) based our model for our garden resource stuff on the model from detroit ag network, which is super cool… and, when we get a real physical homebase to work from, we’ll be able to better run our tool, curriculum, and material lending library, as well as do additional seed and plant distribution. (we are right now taking donations of perennial divides and other garden materials for our Spring TransPlant– which first go to all the 25 community/school garden sites affiliated with Growing Hope, then we sell the rest at our big plant sale… http://www.growinghope.net for more…).

    i also concur with homeless dave re: the advocating FOR something instead of fighting against– that’s core to the growing hope philosophy of being proactive instead of reactive through gardening… despite the association with cool cities, i think the whole cool and cooling idea is pretty, well, rad.

    see y’all at corner brewery!

  2. murph
    Posted May 2, 2007 at 8:06 am | Permalink


    (And we could make up t-shirts: agricouture.)

    I think the Victory Garden brand is a good one – but who am I to argue with the guy who interviewed Bill Clinton on a teeter-totter?

  3. BrianB
    Posted May 2, 2007 at 1:36 pm | Permalink

    Victory garden has a better ring to it to my ears. And the fight against global warming is sorta reactive by definition at this point. And even if somebody knew about the origin of victory gardens and then went on to make the connection to the Iraq war, it’s not like cutting our dependance on foreign oil wouldn’t help our position significantly in Iraq. You can easily make the argument that it’s every American’s patriotic duty to become more self-sustainable. Proactive, positive messages about gardening just sound like hippie handholding to me. But the traveling farmer idea just seems so obviously right on, I’m surpised I haven’t heard it before.

  4. It's Skinner Again
    Posted May 2, 2007 at 2:12 pm | Permalink


  5. muppster
    Posted May 2, 2007 at 9:13 pm | Permalink

    oh my goodness i ***LOVE*** YPSIPLANTI!!!!!! how could we have never thought of that one before?

  6. egpenet
    Posted May 2, 2007 at 9:34 pm | Permalink

    “Ypsiplanting” is fantastic!

    “Local Cukes” is fun, too, as if we were thinking local kooks. Eating well is not a kookey idea.

    BTW … growing local and planting what our local farmers and nurseries offer is very smart husbandry. Plants of all sorts nurseries elsewhere in thee world or in the USA do not do as well in our gardens and yards as those nurtured here in Michigan.

    I was struck by the echo of that fact from the pen of Mr. John Starkweather, a successful local orchard farmer, husband of benefactress Mary Starkweather. When our area was first being farmed, he expreessed concern that plants (trees, seed, etc.) being imported from elsewhere in the country were not doing as well as those obtained right in his own backyard. Our local nurseries have locally produced stock … Michigan, Ohio, Indiana product … that will more often do much better, produce better fruit/flowers/etc. and be more weather-tolerant and bug-resistant.

    The Ferry seed company was founded in Michigan. Don’t even know if they’re in business anymore. And I’ve often wondered about the “engineered” cornfields south of Kalamazoo run by ADM and others. I wonder what those chemical melodies those ears are listening to. Anyway.

    For those who have no access to their own Victory plots … Ypsiplanting is happening at the Riverside Neighborhood Association community garden on Frog Island this year. Check it out on your next walk to the Brewery.

  7. Cousins Vinyl
    Posted May 2, 2007 at 9:35 pm | Permalink

    Chillin’ in Ypsiplanti

  8. murph
    Posted May 2, 2007 at 9:44 pm | Permalink

    Ed – Ferry is now Ferry Morse, since 1930. Their “company history” page notes, however, that they moved to Kentucky in 1959, and, in 1981, were bought by French multinational Groupe Limagrain. So I don’t know if they’re really a locally relevant seed company any more. (But their seeds are available at Congdons.)

    Meanwhile, I think Ypsiplanting is a great name. And all of us who participate in Ypsiplanting are Ypsiplanties! (Who wear Ypsipanties?)

  9. mark
    Posted May 2, 2007 at 11:51 pm | Permalink

    And I love the idea of the neighborhood farmer too. I’m tempted to write a business plan around it.

  10. muppster
    Posted May 3, 2007 at 8:27 am | Permalink

    we’re working on our GH business plans and grant proposals for just such a thing– urban market gardeners!

  11. Posted May 3, 2007 at 5:12 pm | Permalink

    My friend Jeremy used to talk about a project called “Food Not Lawns,” playing off of “Food Not Bombs”. I’m not sure what exactly the project was about, but that name always stuck with me.

  12. egpenet
    Posted May 3, 2007 at 9:41 pm | Permalink

    “Food Not Lawns” was digging up the grass, tossing the Scotts Turf Builder and adding some manure, blood meal, compost and tossing that before planting vegetables.

    Water gardens are great, and some edibles can be gained. But the idea there is catching water.

    No lawns means no fertilizers and chemical guys spraying the neighborhood.

  13. muppster
    Posted May 27, 2007 at 2:00 am | Permalink



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