Calarco: Digging for victory in a new era

Rob Calarco, Suffolk County Presiding Officer
Posted 4/23/20

As I write this, we are well into our fifth week of the coronavirus shutdown. New phrases have entered our lexicon, like “social distancing” and “flattening the curve.” …

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Calarco: Digging for victory in a new era


As I write this, we are well into our fifth week of the coronavirus shutdown. New phrases have entered our lexicon, like “social distancing” and “flattening the curve.” We’re tuning in daily to press conferences, all the while holding our breath to hear the latest numbers. And we’re all thinking of those workers on the front lines who are risking their health so that we may receive medical care, groceries, and other essential services. We continue to keep all of them in our thoughts and wish for their well-being as this crisis continues.

Many Suffolk County residents are struggling to adapt to this new—and hopefully temporary—way of life. Spending nearly all of your time at home is a challenge, but is a little easier now that the weather is improving. A significant number of residents are taking advantage of a relatively mild spring and reviving old pastimes. Victory gardens are making a comeback as residents reduce their trips to the grocery store. As we celebrate Earth Day this month, there is no better time to start a garden, and now we all have a greater sense of purpose.

“Dig for victory” campaigns, synonymous with World War II, actually began in World War I. Americans were asked to grow food on “any available land.” That not only included unused fields and lots, but rooftops and terraces. Americans were growing any number of vegetables, from cool weather potatoes and onions, to warm weather tomatoes and peppers. During World War II, an estimated 40 percent of fresh produce was grown in America’s backyard gardens. In addition to providing nutrition, victory gardens gave Americans a sense of purpose and community during an incredibly difficult time.

Though we are not facing any food scarcity (shortages are actually a result of panic buying), there is solace to working the earth. It improves our physical health, promotes mindfulness, and requires no special skills. It’s also an activity that can involve the entire family. Children can easily be engaged in turning the earth, looking for earthworms, and starting seeds. Older adults benefit from raised beds that reduce bending over to tend their vegetable plots. Everyone can enjoy the nutritious fruits of their labor.

Online garden supply companies are reporting record sales of seeds and plants. However, Gov. Cuomo issued a directive declaring nurseries essential, and many of our local nurseries are open for business. So many of these nurseries have donated plants and supplies to various community projects; now it’s time to support them. Fantastic Gardens in East Patchogue, Bayport Flower Houses in Bayport, Woodside Nursery in Medford and Bloomin’ Haus in Holtsville are some of my favorites and have been especially generous in the past.

There are also a number of online resources I rely on for my own gardening needs. Cornell Cooperative Extension is an invaluable resource for backyard gardening. You can find a number of leaflets related to seed starting, soil sci- ence and organic pest management, and the best varieties of plants to grow in our area. Best of all, all of these resources are free. You can find them at www.ccesuffolk.org/gardening.

All of our local libraries are continuing to host online classes, seminars and discussions during the shutdown. The Patchogue-Medford Library was a pio- neer for the “seed library” programs that have now spread across Long Island; many other local libraries have followed suit. And while you may not be able to pick up actual seed packets, you can still enjoy online programs for composting, seed starting, and gardening in general. Check out your local library pages or go to www.livebrary.com, a centralized location for all Suffolk County libraries. They are maintaining an extensive database of programs and resources on a number of different topics.

I grew a backyard garden before this crisis, and will continue to do so after this has passed. I learned how to carefully grow tomatoes, America’s No. 1 backyard crop, from my father. It is a hobby I hope to pass along to my children. The current circumstances make me feel like gardening has regained a special importance, and I am finding a new sense of purpose as I watch the pea shoots climb their trellis and the lettuce double in size every couple of days. Now I hope more of you can share the collective love of gardening.


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