Victory Garden Comes Alive at FDR Home
Alice Waters, a distinguished food activist, chef, and Californian restaurateur, recently told the Poughkeepsie Journal:
“I just think it’s the greatest idea: that a vegetable garden comes back to life. Maybe it will inspire a movement, like it did way back then.”
She was speaking of the Victory Garden at the Franklin D. Roosevelt National Historic Site, located in Hyde Park, New York. “Eleanor’s Victory Gardens were terribly important to everybody in this country at one point.”
The World War II Victory Garden: Investing in what Nourishes
During the 1940s, Victory Gardens fed both the bodies and the spirits of the war-weakened country. Family and community gardens helped ensure an adequate food supply for both civilians and troops, and government agencies and private citizens worked together to share land, experience, and seeds.
The context may have changed over time, yet the gardens are still an important part of the country’s landscape.
The Roosevelt-Vanderbilt Conservancy is a non-profit organization that has partnered with the National Park Service (NPS) to restore historic landscapes of the site and promote the legacies of Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt. One important aspect of the Roosevelts’ lives was the commitment to food sustainability and farming. Both were actively involved in those issues, from the soil level up to the branches of politics. The garden will help illustrate that legacy, while also encouraging conversation about these topics in our modern context.
Returning to the Garden
The nearly two-acre vegetable garden at the Roosevelts’ home fed the family even before the era of World War II Victory Gardens. As Franklin moved to different locations, his mother continued to send produce from the garden. In 1948, it was paved over to create a parking lot, which remained until 2004. Since the removal of the parking lot, the area has been maintained as a large grass field.
In 2009, The Cultural Landscape Report Treatment Plan for Springwood called for reestablishment of the Roosevelts’ Home Garden. Through a new partnership with the Roosevelt-Vanderbilt Conservancy, the garden will be reconstructed based on the Roosevelts’ meticulous notes and diagrams of what they grew, helping ensure that the site reflects its historic character and use. A single-managed garden will allow for crop arrangements similar to what existed historically.
The Conservancy and the NPS plan to have the Victory Garden fully operational by 2016, in time for the National Park Service centennial.
Why Build a Garden?
The interest in reconstructing the Home Garden extends far past simply acknowledging its historic role.
The garden begins to take root not long after a 14-hour documentary by Ken Burns, “The Roosevelts: An Intimate History,” was aired on PBS this past September, expanding public interest in the personal and political lives of Franklin and Eleanor. Additionally, interest in the garden reconstruction is nurtured by support of the Slow Food movement, turning attention to the importance of knowing where food comes from and how it connects us to our sense of place. Slow Food USA, an advocacy group committed to protecting community, culture, and environment through the pleasures and process of food procurement, serves as a consultant on the project.
These contemporary sources of inspiration – a documentary, a reconstructed historic garden, a food movement – help form tangible connections between the past, present, and future of the landscape.
The Home Garden at the Franklin D. Roosevelt National Historic Site will be used for educational programming. With care, the value of the Victory Garden and the significance of its associations though history will continue to produce well into the future.