The Climate Food Fight: Victory Gardens for a Warming World

View Green America’s Climate Victory Garden video, starring activist/actor Rosario Dawson and guerrilla gardener Ron Finley to learn more about this ambitious campaign.

By Laurie Casey

Can we fight climate change with a tomato? We’ve fought with food once before. . . and we’re not talking about in the cafeteria.

During World Wars I and II, the Victory Garden movement mobilized millions of Americans to plant up a patch of their yards in support of the war effort by expanding the food supply. In 1939 alone, more than 4.8 million American home gardeners grew more than $200 million worth of vegetables, according to the USDA’s National Agricultural Library.

Today, a new round of Climate Victory Gardens are popping up across the country to address our climate crisis, according to Jillian Semaan, food campaigns director at Green America, a national nonprofit that is leading the charge.

“We are once again in a position where we, as everyday citizens, have the opportunity to use our gardens as a force for change,” explains Semaan. “We have brought back Victory Gardens, but this time for the planet.”

We talked to Semaan about Climate Victory Gardens as well as regenerative agriculture and carbon farming.  

Q: What is the state of our soils?

Semaan: According to the United Nation’s Food and Agriculture Organization, the world, on average, has the soil capacity for just 57 more years of growing crops. Around the planet, we have already lost between 30-70% of our topsoil. That’s very scary for our future. The causes of soil destruction include chemical-heavy techniques, deforestation -- which increases erosion -- and global warming. We can all take part in protecting our soil, our health and this planet. 

Q: The Green America website includes a lot of tips and advice for growing a Climate Victory Garden that also helps the soil. What are two of your favorite tools you think are particularly useful?

Semaan: Picking just two is hard. I would say ditching the chemicals and composting are two of my favorites. Others include not tilling [digging into and “turning up”] the soil, using cover crops, rotating your crops, and using animal manures as fertilizers. These are all tools of regenerative agriculture. Shifting garden practices towards principles of regenerative agriculture can be a meaningful part of reversing climate change and sequestering carbon out of the atmosphere and back into the soil. I know it’s tough to incorporate all of these practices  but we encourage folks to try out as many as they can.  

Q: What is the concept of carbon farming?

Semaan: Carbon farming is a broad set of agricultural practices across a variety of farm types that result in increased storage of atmospheric carbon in the soil. When plants photosynthesize, they remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and store it. When they die, this carbon is either released back into the atmosphere, or it is stored for long periods of time in the soil. Many conventional agriculture practices result in the release of carbon, while practices classified under carbon farming aim to do the opposite. Many of the techniques used in carbon farming are consistent with best practice management approaches for sustainable agriculture. They not only reduce the levels of CO2 being released into the atmosphere, but they can lead to an improvement in farm efficiencies and profitability.

Q: How else can people get involved in supporting a healthier food supply?

Semaan: I know everyone is always looking at food labels, but to be honest, if you live in a place where you can ask your local farmer about his/her practices, I would encourage asking if they use pesticides and/or herbicides, GMOs, if they are certified organic, and if they practice regeneratively. And remember just because they’re at a farmer’s market doesn’t mean a farmer uses best practices. We want consumers to make informed decisions about what they are putting in their bodies. While regenerative agriculture does not have a label yet, you can ask questions that focus on the regeneration of soil. If you do not live in a place where you can ask your local farmer, you should ask the local grocery store owners about where they source their products.  

Join more than 1,300 gardeners nationwide by registering your garden as a Climate Victory Garden. Share this idea with your friends and family.

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