UCSF Sustainability Stories


Ana Toepel, Green Impact, May 2020


Six Reasons to Plant Your Pandemic “Victory Garden”

Photo by  Jonathan Hanna  on  Unsplash

If you do a Google search for “victory gardens” right now, a multitude of recent articles pop up that cover the resurgence of victory gardens, the small private and public gardens that sprouted up during World War I and World War II as a response to the pressure on the food supply brought on by war efforts. In addition to boosting citizens’ morale in war time, the UC Master Gardeners Program tells us that these gardens were incredibly prolific: in 1943 there were 20 million gardens producing an estimated 9-10 million tons of vegetables and providing 40% of all vegetables consumed in the U.S. They became especially important when canned goods were being rationed.

Here in San Francisco, the lawn at City Hall was converted to gardens, and every park and many vacant lots in the city had gardens. In fact, Golden Gate Park was one of the country’s most important victory garden sites, housing over 250 garden plots.

A positive thing that has come out of the current pandemic is that people seem to be remembering and discovering the benefits of growing a garden. Offerings of webinars, videos, and Facebook pages on growing food are sprouting up every day, and rather than aiming to support “victory” like the historical garden, the modern garden trend is based on people wanting to be resilient and self-reliant. As grocery store shelves empty, people are flocking to nurseries to start growing their own food, rather than having to rely on purchasing it.

As noted in the San Francisco Chronicle article “A comeback for victory gardens amid Bay Area coronavirus shutdown,” there’s been a boom in urbanites and suburbanites nationwide buying vegetable seeds and seedlings. Seed retailers across the country are reporting tenfold increases in their business, and gardening nonprofits have seen a big uptick in interest in edible gardens—with the push being driven in part by worries about the ongoing integrity of the food system and economic concerns. Novella Carpenter, head of the urban agriculture program at the University of San Francisco, says in the article that now there is an urgency to raise food. “I used to tell my students if the apocalypse hits, meet me in the garden. We don’t know what’s going to happen, how long this is going to last, but, in the meantime, it can be something to do that feels positive, like a way of taking some portion of control back.”

Six Reasons to Get Started on Your Garden Today

With more time at home these days, you might consider joining this current movement of backyard gardeners and planting something of your own. An article in Euro News names gardening the “go-to quarantine activity.” If you’re in need of motivation to do it, here are six reasons in addition to building self-reliance and resilience that may help:

#1- It’s a great kid-friendly family activity. Wondering how to keep the kids busy? Not sure how to get in some science lessons? Gardening’s the perfect solution. All ages can participate in some way.

#2- It will get you outside for some exercise and fresh air. You may not be able to get away for outdoor adventures, but gardening provides beneficial physical activity right in your own backyard.

#3- You can garden anywhere  Veggie sprouting in whatever space you have available. If you don’t have a yard, it could be a balcony, patio, rooftop, fence, wall, or windowsill. One easy and fun idea is to place scrap veggies in water, let them grow roots, and then transplant to soil. Celery, bok choy, romaine lettuce, green onions, fennel, and leeks will all eventually regrow.

#4- You don’t have to re-invent the wheel or go at it alone. There is an abundance of how-to resources available online, like those listed on the Gardening Channel. See below for other helpful resources.

#5- Gardening has mental health benefits; it can enhance your mood and lower stress. You will be able to “forest bathe” without having to go to the forest.

#6- May is the perfect time in the Bay Area to a plant a variety of summer vegetables. The useful Bay Area Planting Calendar will tell you which specific plants are best to grow each month.

Congrats to the UCSF Earth Day Challenge Winner

Growing your own veggie scraps was one GArden winner of the challenges the UCSF community took on as part of UCSF’s Earth Day activities. Jamie Ray of UCSF put scraps of bok choy and celery in some water and replanted them in soil a week later. Here is a picture of her winning results.

Resources to Support You

How-to Information:

  • Garden for the Environment (near the Parnassus Campus) is offering online garden education while their in-person programs are on hiatus. 
  • “Building Your Pandemic Victory Garden” is a practical webinar hosted by Sebastopol’s Permaculture Skills Center.
  • UC Master Gardeners of San Mateo and San Francisco has a website full of gardening resources, including the California Garden Web.
  • This article in The Mercury News has helpful tips on vegetable gardening in containers.
  • “How to Regrow Vegetable Scraps” explains how you can use the veggie scraps in your kitchen to grow new plants you can add to your garden. 

Garden Supplies: