Right across from Atholton High School in Columbia, Maryland, sits a garden roughly a third of an acre with rows of vegetable beds and a newly added pond to encourage wildlife. The garden, located along the road so it’s the first thing people see when they drive past, is being managed mostly by students who planted their first perennial seeds to support pollinators last fall and are now eagerly waiting to see what springs up.
It is part of a 6.4-acre plot of farmland bought last June by the Community Ecology Institute, a nonprofit that seeks to reunite people with nature, from a retiring organic farmer who had managed it since the 1980s and didn’t want it to be lost to development. Fifty years ago, the entire area was agricultural land. Today, this plot is the only farm left. And one of the first things the Community Ecology Institute did when it took over the farm was to plant this “climate victory garden.”
The nonprofit is one of over 2,000 organizations and individuals across the country growing food in climate victory gardens ― be it on a balcony or in a backyard, a community garden or larger urban farm project ― in a bid to mitigate the climate crisis.
Climate change is “a tremendous crisis, but it’s also a really amazing opportunity to shift the way that we’ve been doing things that no longer work,” said Chiara D’Amore, the Community Ecology Institute’s executive director. “We want to use the entire farm as a way to teach about climate action … and we see land-based climate action as one of the more tangible, gratifying ways to help people feel like there’s some hope, feel like there’s something they can do.”
The climate victory garden movement was launched by nonprofit Green America two years ago. It is inspired by the estimated 20 million victory gardens planted across the U.S. by the end of World War II, responsible for producing 40% of all vegetables consumed in the country at the time. The environmental nonprofit is calling on people to use whatever outdoor space they have to grow fruits and vegetables, using “regenerative” methods to help tackle agriculture’s carbon footprint.
About a third of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions come from food production ― that includes emissions related to storing, transporting and selling food. However, the main climate contribution comes from growing crops and livestock and the effect of deforestation to create more cropland. In the U.S., the agriculture sector accounts for roughly 9% of the country’s annual greenhouse gas emissions. Industrial agriculture can also contribute to water pollution from fertilizer runoff and a loss in biodiversity.
Individual gardening efforts alone aren’t enough to address these issues, but it’s a start. “Certainly the victory garden didn’t solve the problem, it didn’t win the war, but it was something people could be called on to do to feel like they were a part of the solution and doing something that was a benefit,” reflected D’Amore, who said the same goes for the climate crisis today.