Those of you who were on the [March 19th] call heard some voices expressing displeasure with the name “Corona Victory Gardens,” mainly due to its militaristic overtones (while some on Facebook objected to using “Corona”).
I left the call convinced we needed to have a much longer discussion on this topic, but after the call a personal email in my inbox from folks at Soul Fire Farm convinced me that I don’t want anything to do with that name anymore. I either didn’t know or somehow managed to forget the deep historical connection between the Victory Gardens movement of World War II and one of the darkest chapters in our country’s history: what we call the “Japanese internment”, a euphemism for forced removal, theft of land and other property, brutal mistreatment, collective punishment and harsh imprisonment.
The basic story is that when FDR decreed the removal of all Japanese American people from the entire West Coast in early 1942, it swiftly led to widespread food shortages because Japanese American farmers provided some 40% of fresh vegetables in California. (Here’s a newspaper article about it.) That was actually what kickstarted the iconic Victory Gardens movement which I ignorantly highlighted in the graphics and language recruiting people to join this effort.
Some of you may think I’m overreacting with this sudden change-of-heart — and of course you are entitled to your opinion — but given the rise in violence and bias directed toward Asian Americans and Asian immigrants since the COVID19 pandemic began (which would surely be worse if we weren’t social distancing), it now seems a deeply inappropriate name for our cause.
The connection between Victory Gardens and the oppressive treatment of Japanese Americans may not be widely known among most Americans, but it is part of the collective memory of many Asian Americans. The last thing I want to do is make this important organizing team any less welcoming to a broad segment of our population. I firmly believe that without the participation and leadership of BIPOC people (Black, Indigenous, & People of Color) in this nascent movement, we will fail to achieve what I hope we are capable of.
You might think a name-change from something catchy and nostalgic like “Corona Victory Gardens” is disappointing, or that it might hurt our ability to be successful, but the fact that people ignorant of the dark side of this history still have warm feelings about Victory Gardens is not a good enough reason to alienate people by using a name that evokes such painful memories.
Additionally, I see real value in having a name change become a part of the story of this movement. It’s an opportunity. Not only does it give us a chance to teach people about our real history, it also gives us an opportunity to draw a parallel to today’s migrant workers in California, who are responsible for most of the food we eat (especially fruits and vegetables).
Their community has already been reduced in size due to enforcement crackdowns and mass deportation, and now many of them are likely unable or unwilling to work due both to new COVID19-related restrictions at the border and the same fear of the virus most of us are feeling right now. That dynamic could very well lead to the first major food shortages during this crisis, so perhaps changing the name and making that connection when we tell our story will help average folks out there understand the urgency of our effort. (Most people I talk to just don’t seem to understand how fragile our supply chain is.)
Some other names that have been proposed include Solidarity Gardens, Prosperity Gardens, Sovereignty Gardens, Food Security Gardens, and — my current favorite — Cooperative Gardens (or Co-op Gardens, for short).
If you’re on the call on Monday, you’ll likely hear me argue some of the following in its favor:
- “Cooperative” (or “Cooperation”) draws a direct contrast with “victory,” because it’s not about defeating anyone, but instead all working together.
- “Co-op Gardens” is a quick and easy shorthand to say or type (and coopgardens.com and .org were both available this afternoon, so I bought them just in case).
- “Cooperative” is not a highly politicized word (like “Solidarity”), and it evokes good feelings in many farmers (whom we need to come on board), both because of the Cooperative Extension System, and because farming cooperatives have such a rich history in this country.
- If we do change the name, we’ll also want to rename the “Corona Victory Gardens Commission,” and “Cooperative Gardens Commission” has a great acronym (“CDC does medicine. CGC does food.”). And, lastly,
- “Cooperative Garden Commission” sounds like a quasi-govermental organization, which was part of the successful strategy of the non-governmental National War Garden Commission during World War I.
I almost regret not asking more people about the name before going wide with it, so someone might have told me about the history, but I do think the name has been valuable for us. It no doubt helped us find 200+ people who want to work cooperatively to make this happen, and nearly 600, in just a few days of recruiting, who want to participate. But at this point I hope it’s served its purpose, bringing together an amazing crew of people, and now we make a final decision about what to call ourselves and move forward with the work. After all, that’s what this is all about.
Thanks for reading.