A wartime tradition comes to life

The popularity of victory gardens grows during Fort Meade's 90th anniversary

June 08, 2007|By Rochelle McConkie | Rochelle McConkie,Sun reporter

Dawn Crawford bikes every day with three of her daughters to what her family calls "the farm."

Knee-deep in soil, she digs out weeds between the family's crops as her 2- and 3-year olds playing in the dirt create new challenges for her laundry detergent.

"We grow everything except turnips," Crawford said, including 10 breeds of tomatoes, four kinds of beans, blackberries, corn, collards and kale. In about a month, she said, her family will be able to completely sustain itself.

"It's a good day's work; it's educational for my family, and it behooves the family economically. It's expensive to go to the farmer's market, and we eat fresh food every day," Crawford said.

The Crawfords' farm, however, isn't much bigger than a modest backyard. It's not even in their yard.

The plot, about a mile and a half from their home on Fort Meade, is part of a new "victory garden" on the grounds of the Army post.

The community garden is a revival of the tradition that began during World War I and expanded into World War II, encouraging families to grow their own produce so that commercially grown crops could be sent to American troops. About 20 million civilians planted these gardens, producing nearly 40 percent of the United States' produce at the time.

Fort Meade's version, dedicated June 1 as part of its yearlong 90th anniversary celebration, doesn't require gardeners to ship their potatoes and carrots overseas to troops in Afghanistan and Iraq. Rather, organizers said, the garden commemorates the war efforts of the past while fostering community spirit and allowing parents to instill the love of gardening in their children.

"We're in a war now, so it's a nice way to remember those before us. It's all part of history," said retired Col. Bert Rice, a former Anne Arundel County councilman, who spoke at the dedication.

Rice, who grew up on a sugar beet farm in Intake, Mont., remembers his neighbors' victory gardens during World War II.

"We had a garden to survive. Everything was rationed - sugar, coffee, shoes. It was a normal thing for us," Rice said.

Rice said victory gardens were a way for families to show patriotism and support the war effort by making sacrifices on the homefront. Some war veterans live in Fort Meade, not far from the new victory garden.

"In our 90th anniversary, we have a lot of World War II veterans still in the area," said Barbara Taylor, who works at the Fort George G. Meade Museum. "It's interesting to see veterans' families with current soldiers having gardens."

Located in the Heritage Park housing area, the garden is a partnership between the installation and Picerne Military Housing, a private developer at the post.

The plot, which is about as big as a street block, is across from the newly dedicated Centennial Grove, a park where pathways and memorials will be constructed for service members. The garden is divided into nine plots shared among 12 families, all of whom live on the base.

Capt. Jeremy Schultes, along with his 3-year-old daughter Quinn, tends the smallest plot in the garden, growing tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, carrots and melons. Schultes, who will begin law school soon and is interning at the Fort Meade law center, said he gardens with his daughter to allow some quiet time for his wife, who recently had a baby.

Dressed in his Army greens and holding his daughter in his arms, Schultes said, "Daddy uses his big watering can and you use your little watering can - you're a good helper."

Other neighbors spend time fighting off the large population of groundhogs, the unofficial mascot of Fort Meade.

"Last year they ate all of my tomatoes, all my cucumbers and all my melons, but they left the jalepe?o peppers," said resident Chris Hilliard, whose husband spends most of his gardening time plotting ways to keep out the rodents with fencing and chicken wire.

Although the victory garden is new, gardening is in the military neighborhood is not. Heather Lettow, communications manager for Picerne Military Housing, said people have been gardening in the area for decades.

Crawford, who gardens each morning and then comes back with her daughters in the evenings, finds fulfillment in teaching her children how to garden and showing them how things grow.

"The best part, though, is that I can take the kids home, give them a shower, put them to bed, and they're out cold," Crawford laughed.

rochelle.mcconkie@baltsun.com

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