victory-gardenSearching for fresh, healthy food for your family? Concerned about recent salmonella outbreaks in the food supply? Looking for ways to reduce pollution, cut your dependence on mass-produced food, create a sense of community, save on grocery bills? And oh yeah, looking for food that tastes great? The answer might be right in your backyard.

Popular during World War I and again during World War II, private citizens in the United States, Canada and England were encouraged to grow their own vegetables in an effort to reduce pressure on the public food supply caused by the war effort. These gardens popped up everywhere, including vacant city lots and even the dry moat around the Tower of London; 20 million Americans participated during World War II and by the end of the war provided nearly 40% of the nation’s vegetables. Called Victory Gardens or Liberty Gardens, they were also considered morale boosters, allowing people to feel empowered by their contribution as well as being rewarded by the produce they grew. Doesn’t that sound like something we could use right now?

Home gardens are becoming popular again as people rediscover the joys and advantages of growing their own food. Burpee Seed reports a 40% increase in seed sales in 2008, and expect another increase this year. The city of San Francisco developed a program that provides starter kits and information to help urban gardeners convert part of their backyard (or windowsill) into growing vegetables. Then there is Eat the View, an organization that is asking President Obama to plant an organic Victory Garden on the White House lawn (it wouldn’t be the first time this has been done – Eleanor Roosevelt had one installed during World War II). And Secretary of Agriculture (and former Iowa governor) Tom Vilsack has recently announced that his department would create “The People’s Garden” out of a paved area outside their building.

Not sure how to get started? Don’t worry – the library is here to help. Here’s a list of books that will guide you through those first steps – and encourage you to try something new!

The Garden Primer by Barbara Damrosch – Great practical information, presented in a straightforward, no-nonsense manner. All organic.

The Complete Compost Gardening Guide by Barbara Pleasant – Lots of info on all kinds of composting, including vermiculture (worms) as well as great gardening tips. All organic.

The Farmer’s Wife Guide to Growing a Great Garden by Barbara Doyen – As well as how to grow, Doyen has information on harvesting, storing and cooking your produce.

Rodale’s Vegetable Garden Problem Solver by Fern Bradley – No problem is insurmountable – this book will show you all kinds of solutions. All organic.

Deer Proofing Your Yard and Garden by Rhonda Hart – Keeping those lovely creatures at bay.

Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver – Provocative and thoughtful examination of what it takes to eat locally.

Eat better, help save the planet and support your local economy – you can do it all in one place, all at the same time simply by visiting and shopping at your local Farmers Market.

You’ll eat better because you’ll know exactly where you food comes from, often the food is organically grown, and usually it has been harvested within the last 24-48 hours so it’s incredibly fresh. You’ll help save the planet by buying locally, cutting the use of fuel (and the resulting pollution) caused by transporting produce hundreds of miles. And you’ll support your local economy by buying from area farmers – people who are probably your neighbors.

Lucky for us, the Quad City area is home to a lot of Farmers Markets making it easy to find one close by. This week (August 3-9) is National Farmers Market Week, a reminder to get out there and see what your local growers have to offer. August is a great time to shop at the Farmers Markets – corn, tomatoes, zuchinni, beets, potatoes, peppers, eggplants, onions, herbs of all kinds not to mention gorgeous flowers such as sunflowers and zinnias – are all in great abundance now.

Not sure what to do with all of that bounty? Check out these books for fresh, easy recipes designed to make the most of this wonderful season.

Outstanding in the Field: a Farm to Table Cookbook by Jim Denevan

The Farm to Table Cookbook by Ivy Manning

Blue Eggs and Yellow Tomatoes by Jeanne Kelley

Summer on a Plate by Anna Pump

Local Flavors: Cooking and Eating from America’s Farmers’ Markets by Deborah Madison