Can Climate Victory Gardens Help Solve the Climate Crisis?

Thousands of people worldwide are gardening to grow food and curb climate change as part of nonprofit Green America’s Climate Victory Gardens campaign.
For centuries, gardeners across the globe have used climate-friendly methods to feed themselves. Launched in 2018, the Climate Victory Gardens campaign connects participants continuing these traditions in 36 countries. It encompasses about 8,200 gardens in homes, schools, parks, community centers, businesses, and prisons. The gardens range from tiny balcony spaces to large rural plots, but together, they span over 1,700 acres and draw down more than 4,300 tons of carbon annually—equivalent to the greenhouse gas emissions from driving 36 million miles. “We wanted to empower individuals to take action,” Green America’s food campaigns director Jes Walton tells Food Tank. “We knew gardening would give folks a tangible connection with the natural world and a piece of the climate solution.” Climate Victory Gardens aims to involve the public in small-scale regenerative agriculture, she says, which includes techniques like protecting soils by planting cover crops. This mode of food production removes planet-warming carbon from the atmosphere and stores it in the soil and plants via photosynthesis, supporting a diverse complex of soil organisms and healthy crops. Cultivating food to capture carbon and fight climate change is an evolving approach, Walton says. Green America hopes that gardening regeneratively will “create familiarity that allows regenerative agriculture to take hold more quickly once it’s widely available to the consumer,” she says. Climate victory gardening also reduces emissions by avoiding costly pesticides, herbicides, and synthetic fertilizers, she says, since making and distributing them takes a huge amount of energy. Instead of buying polluting fertilizer, climate victory gardeners enhance soils with homemade compost. Green America modeled the campaign on world-wars-era victory gardening. World War II saw 20 million gardeners supplying roughly two-fifths of the nation’s fresh food and showed “the enormous potential for collective action,” Walton tells Food Tank. “If we did that in an inclusive and ecological way, the impact on the climate, our communities, biodiversity, and pollinators would be incredible.” Some criticize victory gardens for their militarism, reliance on harmful chemicals, racist land grabbing from Japanese-American farmers, and exploitation by companies to promote packaged food consumption. Japanese Americans grew many crucial commodities before the government confined thousands in internment camps following the Pearl Harbor strike, Walton says. Told that the farmers had become soldiers, white civilians took their land and turned to victory gardening to counter food shortages and help the war effort. “We must build a better today and future by learning lessons from our disturbing past,” Walton says. “Our climate-focused campaign turns the original victory gardens on their head. We’re building up local food systems from the grassroots level, encouraging everyone to take part for the global good.” Despite its American roots, the push now consists of various international efforts. In Nigeria, Precious Agronomic Ventures grows organic produce and furthers awareness of regenerative farming. In Egypt, artist Mohamed Magdy cultivates produce like bananas, tomatoes, peppers, greens and squash. And in Sri Lanka, climate activist Ruwan Nishantha Gamage tends to a big home garden featuring a broad array of vegetables and fruits. Because it boosts food access, general wellbeing, and children’s education, gardening has spread during the pandemic and expanded the campaign, she says. With lockdowns in place and grocery stocks dwindling, garden supplies flew off shelves last spring. “Many people are experiencing the acute impacts of this global health crisis and realizing the impacts of the climate crisis are ongoing and something we’ll have to reckon with once this more immediate threat of the virus is under control,” Walton tells Food Tank. “I’m seeing lots of new environmentally-conscious gardeners looking for resources to garden in a way that treads lightly on the planet.” Over the next few years, Green America intends to collaborate with community organizations to facilitate gardening in urban neighborhoods experiencing food insecurity. The initiative plans to partner with cities as well to incorporate gardening in their climate and development strategies. The non-profit provides gardening resources through its website and Facebook group. Aspiring gardeners can obtain guidance from a gardener they know, such as a relative or neighbor, Walton says. Local gardening groups, community gardens and Master Gardener programs offer advice, too. To maintain motivation, she recommends that folks stick to produce they’re excited to consume and remember that every growing season presents the opportunity to learn from an experiment, even if it fails. “No matter how you slice it, gardening can be good for people and the environment—if done right,” she says. “For many, once they get hooked, gardening becomes so much more than a hobby. I encourage people to dive in and use nature as their teacher.”

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