Block Captain Duties: Harvest Festival

Block Captain Duties: Harvest Festival

First, I should say that one of our core Peterson Garden Project volunteers just said next year we need NEW block captains… so I’m not sure if that’s a reflection on my duties or not… I can say that having been in this role since March I have a great appreciation for the 5,000 Office of Civilian Defense block captains that made the Victory Garden movement in Chicago successful in the 1940′s. We put in one garden in one growing season (2010)… they put in 509 in one year (1942) and an additional 1,000 the next (1943).

Interestingly enough, the challenges between then and now haven’t changed that much… probably because community gardening hasn’t changed that much. One of the big struggles is keeping everyone interested in watering and weeding when the heat of August rolls around and the excitement of spring is long gone. Happily I can report that most of our gardeners maintained their interest. This is due to a lot of awesome core team members – I won’t hold it against them for saying I need to be replaced – who were there to help with classes, give tours, provide advice and encouragement and generally act as garden ambassadors.

Special thanks goes to Xan for taking our Farm2Give (pantry plots) under her experienced garden wing. We have harvested almost 100 lbs of food that have been given to pantries and children’s organizations.

xanlamanHere’s a picture of Xan and I at our September 18 Harvest Festival. We both look beat… leading the charge is hard work!

But back to the matter at hand… in 1943 an organization called The National Victory Garden Institute was founded. Ostensibly, this was a commercial organization created to encourage gardens on corporate property – of which there were 2,000,000 by the end of the war. However, their efforts were a bit unfocused from the beginning and they veered into communications with the USDA, war councils, general Victory Garden hoopla and, most importantly, children’s gardens.

macmedalTo encourage America’s “Army of Young Gardeners” the MacArthur Award was created. In 1943 alone, 25,000 were requested from gardening organizations nationwide to reward the best of the best in youthful Victory Gardeners.

Not having the National Victory Garden Institute around to order any medals from for our Harvest Festival, I had to get creative.

We had two groups we wanted to recognize… remember our “grewbies” (growing newbies) that were, a mere 3.5 months ago, terrified novices? They have all happily graduated to full blown gardeners. Success!

The second group were the kids in the garden. I don’t have children myself so it was fun to watch their level of involvement. It really was their garden from the very start. Early on we taught them the proper way to water and they became the “water ambassadors”. It was really funny to see a seven year old go up to an adult and instruct him or her on the proper way to water vegetables. But they liked having a job to do and they did it with enthusiasm.

IMG_6422Since there were no MacArthur Awards to be had, I went to our local Paper Source and got all artsy craftsy.

Luckily it was back-to-school time so some rubber stamps, pinking shears, double stick tape, colored paper and our tiny business cards were all I needed to create our “medals”. Grewbies got the “You Did It!” award and kids got the “Good Job!” award.

Handing out the “medals” was fun. And connecting with all these wonderful people who had worked together to create this magical place brought tears to my eyes. The medals were silly but people were so thankful. Many people said they were going to put them on their fridges at home. Those comments were then followed by how the summer and the garden were wonderful experiences for them for many reasons. There were so many personal victories this year in our garden – the woman who taught herself to photograph again after a stroke, the man who never left his house last summer but visited his plot in the garden daily, the volunteer who wasn’t even gardening with us but helped with all the hard work as a distraction after being unemployed for two years… the stories like this go on and on…

But perhaps it is true – a picture is worth a thousand words… here are a few of our friends, neighbors and gardeners that have changed my summer, and life, immensely…

potluckPeople who had, not that long ago, been strangers now shared meals together.

happygardenersFrightened new gardeners became old hands with the help of classes but mostly with the encouragement of their neighbor gardeners.

overviewAnd the coolest thing that an ugly, empty lot – with an interesting history – turned into a place of learning, friendship, nourishment and joy… again.

2010 truly was a wonderful harvest, indeed.

Special thanks to Nancy Bouche for the photographs.

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