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V for Vegetable

Getting down and dirty in modern victory gardens, the return of an American legacy.

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Connor Coffey looks on as Ian Timoney digs in at the Inner Circle Garden.

Victory gardening isn’t so different from any other form of gardening, said Elizabeth Jeffrey, a member of the Hailey-based Valley Victory Gardeners. “Plus, it produces food for you to enjoy way beyond the end of the gardening season. It takes it up a notch from the virtues of any other garden.”

In the early 1940s, victory gardens produced about 40 percent of the fresh produce eaten in America.

About 120 local gardeners formed the group in 2009. They meet once a month, even in winter, and are committed to gardening for nutrition. They share their hard-earned knowledge along with precious seeds and early-season starts. They find inspiration in their neighbors’ gardens and some surprises about what grows in Idaho (big healthy Halloween pumpkins) and what doesn’t (okra).

In what is ostensibly a vegetable gardening club, “victory” implies a larger purpose. By growing their own veggies, they opt out of a centralized food system that relies on shipping perishable crops hundreds or even thousands of miles. “It is a victory over the industrial methods of transportation of the past fifty years,” Jeffrey said.

The gardens recall what was once a celebrated American value: good common sense. A garden’s benefits are simple, but countless. Gardeners spend more time outdoors and less hours on the road to and from grocery stores. Vegetable gardeners are what they eat, and they reap the rewards of a colorful, pesticide-free, additive-free diet produced with their own sweat and toil. Gardening is a therapeutic form of exercise that works almost every muscle in the body. It’s a contemplative and fundamentally human endeavor and something entire families can do together. The family that grows together—well, you know.

Salome Taylor is a longtime wood river Valley gardener. When her Hailey garden grew beyond the confines of her yard, she co-opted a strip of land between her fence and Spruce Street in Old Hailey. Sunflowers and pole beans now grow in abundance in this unlikely space, and a pear espalier lines the alley behind the house.

“Few people know how well garlic grows in this valley,” Taylor said. “It’s one of the easiest crops to plant and to harvest. We plant our garlic in the fall and harvest in early to mid-August.”

A victory garden doesn’t need a lot of space. Herbs and even some vegetables and fruits can be grown in small plots or even in boxes or barrels on patios, balconies and windowsills. Six hours of sun a day is the only requirement.

Stephy Smith, a member of the Valley Victory Gardeners, has what she called “a postage-stamp-size garden in Hailey.” But “Oh, the yields we get.” >>>



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