Grow it yourself”! This veggie garden is vintage food for thought.
We have plants on the brain. In part, because it’s harvest season, and we’re fans of any food-oriented event on the calendar. (You should see us around the last Thursday in November.) But over the past few months we’ve also been watching some new, carefully-tended greenery that’s sprung up around our neighborhoods and on our Instagram feeds. We’re talking about Resilience Gardens, micro-farms helping communities grow food during the ongoing COVID-19 crisis, and we find them insanely inspiring. Which led us to … ahem … unearth this new 40s-era Vintage Edition: Grow it yourself, by graphic designer Herbert Bayer.
Bayer is the same Austrian-American designer who dreamed up the 1957 ski-centric promotional poster we released last year as a limited edition. (If you can’t wait to hit the slopes again, consider this your reminder that we have so many good ski prints to tide you over until the flakes fall.) He was known for his Bauhausian approach to print and advertising, evident in Grow it yourself’s bold simplicity that emphasizes both the bounty of gardening (carrots! cabbage! onions! tomatoes! potatoes!) and the gratification it can bring—the stylized ribbon of soil, punchy color palette, and orderly lines are certainly visually satiating, as if to say “these veggies satisfy in more ways than one.” That sprinkler is a key inclusion, an illustrated reminder that this mini Eden is 100% man-made (you can do it yourself!). Bayer was also a total typography whiz, which you can see in the blocky, sans-serif, all-caps font that cleverly switches from blue to white so it pops appropriately. And this isn’t just a garden. It’s a “Farm Garden”—a source of abundance at any size.
Bayer was one of many artists enlisted by the Works Progress Administration (WPA), an American New Deal agency launched in 1935 to provide paid jobs during the Great Depression. He created Grow it yourself’ toward the end of the WPA’s run, as part of the agency’s effort to encourage the public to plant “Victory Gardens” during WWII. At the time, farms were stretched thin feeding the army and our allies abroad. While rationing was in action, civilians were also urged to grow their own gardens anywhere they could, a little relief from the pressure on the usual food sources. It’s estimated that by 1944, almost 20 million families were supplying 40% of the vegetables in America with their Victory Gardens.
But increased availability of produce wasn’t the only reason the government pushed for grassroots planting projects—home gardening has major physical and mental benefits beyond supplementing traditional foodways. In fact, many of the same perks that would have been relevant in the 40s are just as applicable today while we fight another kind of war, one against COVID-19. Dealing with mother nature is a happy exercise in accepting what you can’t control, practicing mindfulness, and organically tuning out whatever you’ve been obsessing over. Even if you’re just watering a windowsill box, gardening is a great stress reliever. It could be a chance to work with some (bemasked!) fellow humans and see the spoils of collective efforts, or connect with the planet at a time when connection feels super scarce. In our tech-addicted world, it’s extra nice to get your hands dirty. And of course, gardening will keep your body moving (haul that bag of soil back from the plant store and you’ll see what we mean). Besides, anything that comes straight outta the earth has gotta be healthy eating!
All those upsides played into the WPA’s and Bayer’s thinking behind Grow it yourself. They also make sense of the resurgence we’re seeing in the idea of Victory Gardens, aka “Resilience Gardens” (even “Quarantine Gardens” has been thrown around). With food supply chains strained, essential workers stretched thin, and social distancing precautions in place, folks are once again turning to home gardening for both sustenance and solace. Though it’s always existed here in the US, food insecurity has been exacerbated by the pandemic. Data shows that more than 54 million people in our nation may experience food insecurity in 2020—that’s about 1 in 6 Americans—disproportionately impacting children and Black and brown families. While truly tackling food insecurity begins with fundamental policy change (GO VOTE), there’s also evidence that community garden programs can reduce its effects.
You don’t need a green thumb to Grow it yourself. Just some dirt, seeds, and a little motivation in vintage art form.
With art for everyone,