Victory Gardens, Living Sustainably, and Finding Happiness

"I do not particularly like the word 'work.' Human beings are the only animals who have to work, and I think that is the most ridiculous thing in the world. Other animals make their living by living, but people work like crazy, thinking that they have to in order to stay alive. The bigger the job, the greater the challenge, the more wonderful they think it is. It would be good to give up that way of thinking and live an easy, comfortable life with plenty of free time. I think that the way animals live in the tropics, stepping outside in the morning and evening to see if there is something to eat, and taking a long nap in the afternoon, must be a wonderful life. For human beings, a life of such simplicity would be possible if one worked to produce directly his daily necessities. In such a life, work is not work as people generally think of it, but simply doing what needs to be done." | Masanobu Fukuoka 

I am at a period of my life where I have a lot of ideas of what would make me happy, what wouldn't, and what I could do to achieve a higher goal in series of small tasks that I essentially believe to passions. In my own eyes, I am farther along than many of my peers, in certain ways. Though I am a bit of a recluse, when I do have the chance to stop and talk with others in my generation, those who are so buried in student debt, those who don't know what they want, I find that my sight of the future has a much more determined path than theirs. How are we supposed to know exactly what we want when we're so young?

Let me give you an example. Just the other day I had an old acquaintance send me a message checking in to see how my life was. Well, let me rephrase this... I tend to attract confessors. That sounds really strange, right? What does that even mean? In school, I was always considered the "mom-friend." I made sure everyone was okay, I planned out our trips, I gave advice, and I attracted confessions. I was the first one to be told when something was going wrong. I'm not sure how that feeling passes on to people that you hardly speak to, because this acquaintance I talked to recently, who I don't know very well, who had asked how I was, seemed to only want to confess to me how hard their life was currently. They needed someone to tell who wouldn't judge or give advice. I think that has a lot to do with my personality type - I'm an INFJ, and I love to read up on it as much as possible, which is typical of my type - haha. We like to know ourselves so well. And even talking about this part of my relationships with people seems almost too raw to write out, and I'm not sure why. 

With that little story in your mind, I didn't really have much to say to them, except that I was trying to understand. Their story was like every other friend and acquaintance of mine. They go to college, they go to grad school, and it's hard. It's a lot of hard work. And then what? You supposedly get a job and you hopefully get married and you maybe have a kid and then... happiness? You can afford to buy yourself happiness finally? I don't know if I like that system. I've written about this before. Remember that kid I love so much, Logan LaPlante? In his Ted Talk, he discusses the key to happiness as a strategy of following lifestyle changes. It's a small list of things you can do to improve your mental health, originally suggested by Dr. Roger Walsh:

  • Exercise
  • Diet
  • Spending Time in Nature
  • Contribution and Service to Your Community
  • Relationships
  • Recreation
  • Relaxation such as Meditation or Yoga
  • Spiritual Connections

I love listening to Logan's idea of education because it's something that I think a lot of people could benefit from. Though homeschooling might not be the answer, realizing that following this straight line of accomplishments that our world lays out doesn't necessarily work for you is absolutely life changing. When my acquaintance asked how my life was, all I could think was, "I'm really happy." And I am! I think a lot of people expect me to be living this difficult life because I was dealt an unfortunate hand in their minds - I'm an abandoned, single mother who didn't get a college education and am running a small business. I'm living this really unexpected lifestyle, and guess what, I'm thriving! I may not be making a 6 figure salary, but I don't think that matters. I have happiness, and I want to share why I think sustainable living equals happiness. 

“The first supermarket supposedly appeared on the American landscape in 1946. That is not very long ago. Until then, where was all the food? Dear folks, the food was in homes, gardens, local fields, and forests. It was near kitchens, near tables, near bedsides. It was in the pantry, the cellar, the backyard.” | Joel Salatin

Now that we live in this rural community, where a majority of the population is Amish, I'm finding myself becoming more and more accustomed to living a similar lifestyle. That kind of happens anywhere you live, I suppose. When we first moved here, it was really shocking to see so many people with vegetable gardens in their front yards and clothes hanging from a line to dry in the summer breeze. Who had a clotheslines anymore? I don't think my grandma even had a clothesline, at least I never saw her use one. The first summer we lived in our Iowa home, there was an Amish family who lived behind us that tended to their garden every single day. I watched them work tirelessly; it was fascinating and also made me grateful that I was inside where there was air conditioning. Trust me, I wasn't easy to convert.

But I thought a lot about why gardens had disappeared from backyards. When I was little, I loved American Girl Dolls. Remember Molly McIntire? She hated working in their victory garden, if I remember the stories correctly. There was a time in the US where most people had vegetable gardens in their backyard to sustain their homes. They made their own food, they grew their own produce, they raised their own meat and eggs. Wouldn't it be incredible if we all did that now? I think people have forgotten that you can grow vegetables in the ground right outside your own door. When you walk into a classroom of young children, do they really know where the food they eat everyday comes from? Would they know how to grow it? What if they had to? What if you had to?

The earliest mention of victory gardens I could find was in Canada in 1917, during WWI, though I'm sure they started earlier. Residents in cities, towns, and villages began using space in their backyards to plant produce for personal use. The gardens were planted all over the country, in the US too, and Europe, in backyards, front yards, and public parks. It was a way to lift pressure off of public food supply companies and to boost morale during war time. The idea continued into WWII, where the term Victory Garden was coined. Ladies' organizations would hire expert gardeners to speak at schools for children and their parents to help get them interested in gardening. Most homeowners were encouraged to keep chickens in their yards so they had access to their own eggs. The result of this push for backyard farming was a result in over 18 million home gardens, on rooftops too, in the United States alone. There was an abundance of potatoes, beets, cabbages, and various other vegetables and the production reach was over 1.2 billion dollars. 1/3 of the states' produce came from victory gardens during the second world war. 

Today, there are only two public victory gardens left in the United States, and they are only maintained as a sort of museum to the public. One is Boston and the other is in Minnesota. They now grow flowers instead of vegetables. It's disheartening, really, to me anyway.

I wonder how the United States would change if we all learned how to grow our own food, at least enough to sustain ourselves. Would there be less chemical food? Would we all feel better? I know that cooking your own food makes you want to try new things, so would growing your own vegetables make you want to eat more of them? I think so. It definitely makes me want eat better, eat more wholesome food. And that kind of goes hand-in-hand with my theory on how sustainable living equals happiness. What was that list, again?

  • Exercise
  • Diet
  • Spending Time in Nature
  • Contribution and Service to Your Community
  • Relationships
  • Recreation
  • Relaxation such as Meditation or Yoga
  • Spiritual Connections

We already know that you get plenty of exercise, nutrition, and time spent in nature when you work a garden. You soak in the sun, get your hands dirty, and you can watch something grow right before your eyes. Watching plants grow on your windowsill can be life altering! What about contribution and service to your community? You are putting the soil to good use, you are making your home look nicer and increasing the value of yours and everyone else's home, you are promoting healthy living to your fellow neighbors and community members. Go a step further and support local farms near you by purchasing the produce you can't grow yourself and donating to their business. 

Relationships? Join a garden club, a chicken club, a bee club! I just spent an entire weekend last week meeting other beekeepers and learning from them. It made me so happy spending time with people who have a passion for sustainable living just like I do. I felt like I had found my people again. I've made so many wonderful relationships with people over the internet just from writing about gardening - I met one of my good friends because she wondered if I wanted to take a couple of chickens off of her hands. When you garden, you meet people, you just do. People will stop by to see what you are doing; offer your fresh veggies and eggs to your neighbors! There is no better gift.

You can achieve Recreation by finding passion. Recreation is reading and writing and making things by hand for me, and here I am writing about it! I read gardening books every day and make art that is inspired by nature, and it Relaxes me as well. I don't meditate, but maybe I'll start! As for Spirituality, I've never felt more connected to something than when I was work with plants. There is a special place, deep inside of me, when I think about what watching something grow means to me... that I don't know if I'll ever be able to explain. I feel connection and resonance and joy and fear and all things, more than I've ever felt!

Have I convinced you yet? Maybe growing plants and keeping chickens isn't the answer for you, but I hope it makes you step back and check if the path you are following makes you happy. For me, I felt fear when I held my third college acceptance letter in my hand, my nursing babe in the other, and no idea how I could do both. I didn't know what I wanted to do; when I let that go, I was able to spend some time figuring out exactly what I wanted. Honestly, sustainable living was never something that I thought I would do. I didn't know a thing about plants only a short time ago - they've changed my life in so many lovely ways. I hope they change yours, too. 

xoxo Kayla