Victory Gardens 2008+ is an extensive program that incorporates art and design with agriculture to transform unused spaces around the city into edible gardens. Victory Gardens 2008+ is an extension of the victory gardens created during the First and Second World Wars to address food shortages and aid the was effort. Franceschini’s rendering is in response to current environmental issues including food security, the effects of exponential gas consumption and ‘urban sustainability.’ The project established 18 gardens in unused land and created a quarter-acre edible garden in front of the City Hall, a location where an original WWII victory garden was planted. Victory Gardens 2008+ saw hundreds of participants, and provided the infrastructure and inspired an ongoing interest to create a long-term initiative for social change.
Victory Gardens 2008+ combines a mild form of activism with art and design to create an engaging project that inspired social change. Franceschini applied a transdisciplinary approach to combine art, design, horticulture, and community participation creating an extensive project that connected with a diverse audience. Scientists, environmental designers, professional gardeners, educators, and other experts were employed to consult and collaborate on the project. The specialists contributed an informed perspective in directing the project and provided a pragmatic component.
Essentially the artwork was created through the actions of establishing gardens, growing food, and educating participants about food production with a long-term goal of establishing permanent gardens and social change. The project was structured to incorporate new gardens planted in eighteen private homes, a temporary garden outside City Hall, a partnership with an existing demonstration garden and starter kits which could be purchased by other interested in growing food.
Aesthetic/Visual: Franceschini wanted to transform urban backyards into edible gardens and bring life back to deserted and unused public space. Build a temporary edible garden was set-up outside City Hall, which was one of the original sites of a World War II garden.
Innovation/Risk (Conceptual): Franceschini aimed to revisit an existing structure (WWII Victory Gardens) and motivate participants to volunteer their private land. Incorporate art and design with agriculture and gardening to create an ongoing movement that surpasses the initial project timeframe and establish long-term behavioural change.
Audience Engagement: To reconnect city residents with growing food.
Social Activation/Debate: Encourage people who were not selected for backyard gardens to initiate an edible garden of their own. Raise debates about local food production and food security.
Social Inclusion/Community Development: Include participatory activities, for example, demonstration garden, urban food growing workshops and City Hall garden. The project aimed to encourage local community members to meet each other and rethink how to utilise other abandoned public spaces. Franceschini wanted to encourage more residents to grow edible gardens and to share extra produce with community, e.g. swap surplus.
Climate Change Adaptation: To reduce food miles by growing food locally.
OUTCOMES & IMPACTS
Methods of Evaluation
Participants of Victory Gardens 2008+ agreed to provide a qualitative evaluation about the project.
Audience Engagement: Over 300 residents applied to transform their backyards into edible gardens. Most residents have continued to maintain their gardens.
Social Inclusion: Community members and residents outside of the selected participants became involved in the project. This was seen through community ownership, volunteerism, training and skill sharing.
Community Development: Participants became more aware of the space within their community, e.g. amount of vacant lots, underutilised spaces and potential growing zones. They also realised the capacity existed to grow food in cities.
Health and Well-Being: Participants and growers will improve their health through eating produce that has been grown without pesticides. The produce is also fresher therefore retains more beneficial nutrients.
Education: The program model has been incorporated into school curricular.
Victory Gardens 2007+ was initially presented as a pilot project by San Francisco-based artist Amy Franceschini for the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art’s (SFMOMA) SECA Award Show, and was expanded to become Victory Gardens 2008+. Amy Franceschini affirmed that the timing of the project was paramount, stating, “San Francisco was ready for this (type of project).” California and specifically San Francisco have a strong history of sustainable food culture, which aided in facilitating an interest in willing participants and also funding. The historical significance of the World War I and World War II Victory Gardens also encouraged enthusiasm and momentum in recreating the program in a contemporary form. The branding and visual design of the project, which was initially conceptualised for the SFMOMA exhibition, assisted in promoting the project. It provided a significant cultural framework to launch the practical component to the project.
It became evident that within the urban population there was a general lack of knowledge about how to grow food. This changed the trajectory of the project to focus more on education and development of skills rather than simply providing gardens to households. Through workshops and on-site training in people’s homes and in the Garden for the Environment’s Organic Demonstration Garden, greater connectedness and community spirit was created and inspired. Although initially shocking, the lack of awareness about how to grow food potentially strengthened relationships through bringing people together to share the experience of learning and achieving success with their garden.
Some other constraints with the project were that it was not able to facilitate the demand and popularity from interested participants. This worked in favour of the project in ensuring it did not become too centralised and limited. It motivated individuals and families to initiate their own projects, whilst being part of a larger network.
Almost four years after the project started 15 of the 18 test gardens planted still exist. The three gardens that ceased to be used were due to different contributing factors, including restrictions imposed by a landlord onto a rental property, one family was too busy to maintain the garden and one family did not retain enough knowledge to successfully keep the garden growing.
Overall Victory Gardens 2008+ has become a sustainable project in terms of longevity. It continues to withstand the current global economic crises and has influenced many people on a grassroots level to grow their own produce.
IMPACTS OF ARTWORK PRODUCTION
Materials used to create Victory Gardens 2008+ were sourced and constructed locally. These materials included Redwood boxes, drip systems, soil and seeds. The drip systems conserved a considerable amount of water. A Victory Gardens tricycle was constructed to deliver all garden materials to participants. This project had a low environmental footprint, which kept within the aims of the project.
Franceschini, Amy. Interview by author, July 11, 2012.
Franceschini, Amy. Victory Gardens 2007+. San Francisco: The Expanding Colour System and Gallery 16, 2008.