Congressman Jay Inslee introduced a bill this week that would provide federal funding for community gardens—public plots of land that can be subdivided for the purpose of growing food or flowers. This might sound odd, but Inslee's actually emulating a long line of politicos who have voiced their support for such projects—notably FDR.
Jill Lawson's book City Bountiful chronicles the ways in which Americans have turned to gardens throughout history as a way of combating hardship. Originally started as charity projects meant to provide "moral uplift" to slum-dwellers in the 1890s, they matured into a full-blown "Victory Garden" movement during the two world wars. In World War II, FDR famously urged every citizen to grow a vegetable garden, citing local food production as essential to the war effort. All told, in 1943, Americans grew eight million tons of produce in such gardens—one-third of all vegetables grown that year.
Today, community gardens are intended to address issues like crumbling inner-city neighborhoods and a dependence on fuel-intensive agriculture—not quite as galvanizing as the Nazis, but still important. And, as Corby Krummer reported in The Atlantic last year, these vegetable patches can play a role not just in increasing access to fresh produce, but in creating meaningful employment for teens in some of America’s toughest neighborhoods.