Photo submission by Dorothy Jeffrey - Image taken of the New London Victory Garden from the garden tour at Colby-Sawyer College.
The concept of the Victory Garden began in World War II when Americans were encouraged to grow backyard gardens to help ease pressured supply chains and food shortages. Now, in a time when AAA reports New Hampshire's gas average last month as nearly $4.90 per gallon, and high inflation rates continue to challenge the average consumer, members of the Kearsarge community are reintroducing Victory Gardens as one solution.
Hanna Flanders, Director of Marketing and Communications for the Kearsarge Food Hub, is one of the main brains behind this Victory Garden Revival project. Flanders says that not only are Victory Gardens a way to combat a a stressed supply chain, buy they also encourage community building in what is now an isolated, post-pandemic country.
"It's a way to recenter resiliency hyper-locally, in your own backyard or in a small community "Flanders explains. The Victory Gardens are a way to educate individuals on growing their own food, as well as encouraging the community to come together after years of isolation. "That's where the Victory Garden Revival comes in, as this multifaceted effort to explore how to educate, inspire and build community around the gardening experience."
Inspiration for the Victory Garden Revival cam from FEED (Food Expansion, Education, Distribution) Kearsarge's first program called Tray it Forward. For this, trays are donated by the community, with seedlings started by Spring Ledge Farm of New London and distributed to registered individuals by volunteers. The third annual Tray it Forward Program was in May of 2022, where over 400 free seedling trays were delivered to 108 individuals, food pantries and local organizations. Many of the individuals who receive trays register through food pantries, ensuring FEED Kearsarge's goal of helping people who are food insecure.
Flanders describes the Victory Garden as the "second leg" of the Tray if Forward Program. FEED Kearsarge aims to not only provide seedlings, but ensure their success within the recipients' gardens.
Back in March of 2020, Flanders led the Kearsarge Food Hub into a partnership with FEED Kearsarge, which is a collaboration of local organizations including Kearsarge Neighborhood Parteners (KNP), Spring Ledge Farm and Colby-Sawyer College. FEED Kearsarge works to "advance food security and food sovereignty in the Kearsarge Region" through a variety of programs.
According to Andy Jeffrey, volunteer at the Kearsarge Food Hub and KNP, there are three main deliverables of FEED Kearsarge. The first is to get the seeds out - Tray it Forward Program, the second to turn them into food Victory Gardens, and the third being distribution. This is where the concept of the "Freedge" free fridge, comes to play.
"If you think about the electrical grid, in order for your toaster to function, you gotta have a powerline coming to your house and a socket to ply it into," Jeffrey said. "This group views the food delivery system in the same way as electrical deliveries. We want to make sure that we are reaching everybody and that everybody's not just getting some food, but adequate and high-quality food." The Bradford Victory Garden is now directly supplying produce to the "Freedge," which is located at the Kearsarge Food Hub's Sweet Beet Market & Café in Bradford.
Both Flanders and Jeffrey attribute FEED Kearsarge's continued accomplishments to the Kearsarge Community Network (KCN), which holds monthly meetings to link like-minded organizations together. The group is funded by the UNH Cooperative Extension, who received funds from the Rural Health and Safety Education (RHSE) grant to improve community resilience in rural New Hampshire communities impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. The grant resulted in the "Building Community Resilience" project and the formation of the KCN.
"There's a lot of energy in this particular region," said Melissa Lee, Field Specialist at the Merrimack County Extension Office, and Co-Director of the Building Community Resilience project. According to Lee, the choice to direct funds to Kearsarge was a "sense of readiness" in the community, who needed not more resources, but an "opportunity to increase communication."
This opportunity became reality thanks to UNH Extension, RHSE funds and the help of Carol Conforti-Adams, Extension's local coordinator and main voice for the KCN. Although RHSE funds cease at the end of this calendar year, Conforti-Adams has already committed to staying onboard to keep the KCN afloat.
"Carol's involvement and her passion for community wellness, joy and vitality, she's really interested in making sure that the work that's started by the grant is continued once the grant is over, "Flanders said. Jeffrey had similar things to say, emphasizing the role the KCN played as a "cross-pollinator" of local organizations' efforts, "Through that cross-pollination, opportunities that were not visible became visible, became acted on and became real."
When asked about her decision to stay involved as Coordinator past the end of the RHSE grant period, Conforti-Adams recognized the plethora of positive feedback she's received from the Network's members. "What the KCN had allowed us to do is for people to see each other, talk to each other and share what they're doing, then the spark happens," Conforti-Adams said. "The more we can learn about each other, the more we can collaborate, the more resources we can spread across the board while engaging our clientele and community members."
FEED Kearsarge is taking several efforts to ensure support for Victory Garden participants, one being a series of Victory Garden tours at the three established community gardens in Bradford, Warner and New London. These gardens serve as models to participants who may lack the knowledge necessary to grow their own Victory Garden. The first tour took place on July 15th at the New London Victory Garden at Colby-Sawyer College. The next tour will take place at the Warner Victory Garden on August 4th at 11:30 am.
"When we had the Victory Garden tour at Colby-Sawyer, the response was amazing, the participants wanted to bring their friends and family back to show them what's possible. It's an eye-opening experience," Jeffrey said. "People just assume that you have to be a 'green thumb' gardener or farmer in order to produce food. When you see how simple, straightforward and inexpensive it is... it's a bonding experience."
A second effort to support participants is the Victory Garden Support Group via Facebook, run by Colby-Sawyer College Intern Makayla Wilbert. Members can submit photos of their gardens, view and chat with other community members and participate in the "Victory Garden Superlatives."
"We are offering prizes to folks who submit photos in different categories throughout the growing season," Flanders explained. "Then we have gift cards to Spring Ledge Farm, Sweet Beet and Warner Public Market, just to make it exciting." Week one of Victory Garden Superlatives asked for photo submissions of the "Most Creative Garden Setup," which five members had taken part in.
To get involved with these various organizations and to learn more about future events with the Victory Gardens, join the Facebook group. You can also email Hanna Flanders at firstname.lastname@example.org.