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Victory Gardens vs. The Cheeto Tree

Victory Gardens vs. The Cheeto Tree

San Francisco Victory Garden plant bed (photo by J.H.)

Jacky Hayward | Chef's Blade

Do you remember eating Cheetos when you were a kid and thinking they grew on Cheeto trees? You might not, but I do; admittedly, I was a particularly imaginative kid. There were apple trees, orange trees, and money trees; why not Cheeto trees? Now in my mid-twenties, I have thankfully learned that Cheetos not only DON’T grow on trees, but they are in fact chemically rendered, preservative sprinkled, corn-derived, orange bits resembling toasted Styrofoam, which taste amazing, but, well, are pretty horrible for your body.

I think my childhood misconception points to a pretty good illustration of a broader, more national problem: As a country, we have no idea where our food comes from—I truly doubt I was the only six year old dreaming of “orange crunch” covered trees.

I now live in San Francisco. I have visited farms in Sonoma where some of my food has been grown, I have seen the shell fish I am about to eat be pulled out of the water it grew up in, and I have attempted to grow herbs in the garden outside my house. Also, as a San Francisco resident, I saw the first public, edible victory garden built in a major city since the World War II era: In summer 2008, the City of San Francisco built an edible garden in the space in front of its city hall as part of the Slow Food Nation conference. For me, it was one of the greatest contributions Slow Food had on the city and, eventually, the nation.

Victory gardens, also known as war gardens or food gardens for defense, first came about during World Wars I and II as a response to the pressure on the food system brought on by the war efforts. These gardens produced food (vegetables, fruits, herbs, and livestock) and were planted at private residents as well as in public spaces—Eleanor Roosevelt raised sheep on the White House front lawn in 1943. These victory gardens produced up to 40% of the food consumed nationally and helped to lower the cost of produce, thus allowing funds that would have been spent on food to advance the war effort in other areas. The “victory” in these gardens, however, was the eventual WWI and II victories.

The victory garden planted in front of the San Francisco Civic Center was funded by the City of San Francisco and redefined the word “victory” used in the gardens of WWI and WWII; this garden were developed to increase urban sustainability as well as raise awareness about where our food comes from and involvement in how it is produced. In the context of our food systems being stretched across longer and longer distances, the San Francisco Civic Center Victory Garden encourages SF residents to look increasingly local for their food supply.

The resulting garden in Civic Center plaza was also aesthetically pleasing and biologically diverse. The circular beds included many local plants, including some rumored poison oak—cheeky!—as well as plants that have become staples of our California diet, like kale and basil. In addition, a sweet smelling compost display could be found at the back, encouraging visitors to compost their food.