Battlefield Earth: Sonoma fights virus with ‘victory gardens’

Ecology Center to hand out starter kits to homebound gardeners.|

Popular during last century’s two world wars, “victory gardens” are back in fashion, as the world fights the COVID-19 war and communities seek solace in nature and food security by growing their own fruits and vegetables.

“Hopefully it will create a sense of connectedness,” said Kim Jones, development manager for the Sonoma Ecology Center, which is creating Victory Garden “starter kits” to give away in commemoration of the nonprofit’s upcoming 30th anniversary celebration.

First started in World War I, victory gardens – also called war gardens – began as part of the war effort. People were encouraged to plant gardens in their yards, city parks, church yards, anywhere there was available land. The food grown locally eased the pressure on commercial food suppliers and made more food available for soldiers.

In the midst of shelter-in-place orders and uncertainty of when things will normalize, growing vegetables in a home garden can be empowering and rewarding, said Alyssa Condor.

“It’s the one thing that can take the power back,” she said.

Condor started a Facebook page, Sonoma Victory Garden Club, to encourage people in Sonoma Valley to start their own gardens and share what they are growing with others in the community. It’s a spin-off from the Facebook group, What’s Open in Sonoma, which she created to encourage people to shop locally and support Sonoma Valley businesses.

This week she posted that she had bay leaves to share. A friend said she’d like some and, in exchange, gave Condor some lemons. She sees sharing excess produce with others as a way to calm fears of food scarcity.

One person might have an excess of squash, another might have more tomatoes than they can eat before they go bad, and people with citrus trees can share the fruit.

The Sonoma Ecology Center is partnering with Sonoma Valley’s Bee-Well Farms, which is growing starter plants now that will later be given away during the center’s 30th “birthday” celebration. Jones said the location for the celebration is still being worked on due to COVID-19 physical distancing requirements.

Once the logistics are finalized, the Ecology Center will announce where it will give away 300 Victory Garden starter kits, she said.

The packages will include a six-pack of starter plants – sunflower, cucumber, melon, beans, peas and squash – and a packet each of organic carrot and spinach seeds. The Ecology Center considers the packages a “birthday gift” to the community during its 30th year celebration.

Christopher “Landy” Landercasper, the director of farming operations for Sonoma’s Best Hospitality Group, is also encouraging people to start victory gardens, and is offering his expert advice and resources of where to get supplies such as seeds and starter plants. Landercasper, a longtime farmer, oversees the gardens and food supply for the company’s various businesses that includes Ramekins and the General’s Daughter.

“People are still adapting to the new reality of things,” he said. “People may have more time at home now and maybe some did gardening and want to pick it up again.”

A home garden gives people “the ability to produce their own food at home,” Landercasper said. “We could have disruptions in how we” get food and “may need to produce more things” in this country,” he said.

The idea is “getting people to see that they can in fact produce some of their own food again,” Landercasper said.

When Sonoma Garden Park reopens, Jones said there will be an opportunity for people who don’t have yards to start a garden there.

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