- Author: Rose Hayden-Smith
Remember that song??? I remember it well. Its lyrics inspired thousands of people to come to San Francisco. Written by the Mamas and Papas John Phillips, and recorded by Scott McKenzie, the song quickly became a cultural icon.
At age 7, I was too young to travel to San Francisco during the summer of 1967. I won't miss my opportunity this time, though, and will be joining thousands of other like-minded people over Labor Day Weekend 2008 for what promises to be an amazing series of events and activities sponsored by Slow Food Nation. "Come to the Table" invites all of us to travel to San Francisco, to recognize our collective strength, to learn more about sustainable food systems, real food, and to celebrate together.
Top on my list will be a visit to the San Francisco Victory Garden at the Civic Center. In World War I and World War II, the Civic Center was home to Victory Gardens. San Francisco had extraordinarily robust wartime gardening programs, and celebrated the success and importance of this work through a series of public activities. It says a lot about the City of San Francisco that it is once again claiming civic space for such an important activity.
We can learn some important things from our past about the use of civic space for gardening. In WWI, Edith Wilson (President Wilson's second wife) grazed sheep on the White House lawn, doing her "bit" for the war effort. Eleanor Roosevelt planted a vegetable garden on the White House lawn during WWII. Photographs of Vice President Henry Wallace working in his Victory Garden, sometimes with his son, were distributed to the Press Corps during WWII. Gardens were planted in public spaces throughout the nation: parks, schools, and city-owned lots. Gardens were planted at homes, on median strips, on military bases and at workplaces...wherever Americans lived, worked, gathered, prayed for the war's end, and hoped for a brighter, more peaceful future.
In WWI and WWII, gardening claimed not only important physical space in American life, but an important place in the American psyche. Gardening was a vital expression of American civic life, bridging ethnic, socioeconomic and class differences. It was an activity to which we could devote our considerable energies without reservation. An activity that united us in hard and uncertain times.
If you're going to San Francisco, this summer, be ready to celebrate Victory Gardens, an old idea that is coming around again. Be ready to learn a lot about America's food system. Be ready to meet other people who share your dreams, your values, and who are ready for a food revolution. If you're going to San Francisco, be sure to wear some flowers in your hair. And bring your gardening tools.
"A Garden For Everyone. Everyone in a Garden."