Cultural Mentoring is not the first thing to roll out of someone’s mouth when asked the question:

What’s the most effective way to create change in a …community, school, church, institution, business, neighborhood…

There is a powerful combination of one on one mentoring and cultural mentoring that is extremely effective in creating change.

These approaches are two of the main threads in the Art of Mentoring.

I’ll save one on one mentoring magic for another post.

The Three Great Mysteries: air to a bird, water to a fish, mankind to himself
~ Hindu Proverb

Cultural Mentoring is about the context.  It’s the ocean you are swimming in.

The WW2 Victory Gardens are an excellent example of Cultural Mentoring.  This was a whole systems cultural approach that essentially changed the nature of the ocean that people in this country were swimming in.  Take a look at this article clip below that shows the many ways this simple gardening initiative really had going on.  It wasn’t just “hey let’s do this” and everyone thought it was a good idea.

What if we applied this approach to a nature connection campaign, a community resilience, local food, slow money, intergenerational community peacemaking campaign ?

Please comment below, I want to hear what you think !


During World War Two, 200 million people gardened, and 40% of produce consumed in America was homegrown.


How do you teach an entire city to grow food?

The Mayor of Boston helped plow up the Boston Commons.

Movie stars became part of the program. Veronica Lake changed her hair from swept over one eye to keeping hair back and out of the way – better for women munitions workers and gardening. The campaign was called “Hair wins the war”.

Cartoon characters and superheroes were used to further gardening message.

Popular culture was drafted into the gardening movement – beer drinkers showed having a drink after sweaty gardening. Fashionable gardening clothes were sold from department stores.

Children were brought into the movement by their parents and their schools. Chicago held well-attended harvest festivals and garden parades.

Corporations got involved. Sears started 24,000 Victory Gardens in the Los Angeles area. International Harvester provided the plows in Chicago.

To keep that food year round, there was a mass program of canning. Five billion pints of produce were canned by volunteers every summer during the war. “Pressure cookers and canning supplies were in such high demand that their production was overseen by the government.”

Gardens began sprouting behind sign posts, on railway embankments, in school yards and church yards and in window boxes.” Vacant lots and parks were also used – any spare space.

The Office of Civilian Defense was put in charge, with Fiorello La Guardia. His “assistant” was the President’s wife, Eleanor Roosevelt – the last person to plant a food garden on the White House grounds until Michelle Obama. Could the Department of Homeland Security start thinking about real food security, and help found local gardens instead?

90% of the participants had never gardened before. This required a massive public training effort through: community groups, film nights on how to plant, educational brochures, talks by experts, newspaper articles. They mounted Kiosks near gardens and in public places to post notices and articles, a kind of social media of the day.

The City of Chicago was broken up into 7 regions, then down to block captains. Each official garden received a decal. There were many more gardens in private yards, and people who didn’t want to register of keep the paperwork. 75,000 of these decals were posted in the first year in Chicago, 1942.

In 1942, Chicago had 12,000 community gardens on over 500 plots, covering 290 acres. That doesn’t include private or non-registered gardens. By 1942 it was 53,000 gardens on 1500 plots. 14,000 children were gardening.

The first Victory Gardens were in Chicago, and it became a national model. The largest garden there was 32 acres, with 800 families participating.

Chicago passed an ordinance against damaging or stealing from Victory gardens. The fines were $50 to $200, which would be $650 to $2,600 in today’s currency.

It’s interesting to note that the food shortage and poverty during the Depression of the 1930’s was so severe that 35% of the men drafted for World War Two could not be accepted due to malnutrition.  

I wonder, Was this the primary motivation behind the Victory Gardens ?  National Security?

How did Chicago do it? “We had government support. There were overarching organizational structures. There was a donation of space and equipment. There was mass education, promotion, corporate and individual commitment, and recognition.”

18 replies
  1. Zelig Golden
    Zelig Golden says:

    I love the victory garden story – it’s a perfect analogy to our times in one critical respect. the Victory Garden movement came from an urgent need to create food in a time when manufacturing was redirected entirely toward the war effort. We would not fed ourselves if we did not grow it ourself. It’s incredible that the whole country mobilized to meet the urgent need.

    The times we are in are equally critical, I would say, but the urgency is not perceived by the people like the reality of WW2. We’re like the proverbial frog beiing cooked by slowing warming water … The cultural upgrade that is needed now is to mobilize Victory Garden style without the dramatic urgency of a world war, but with the consciousness that we are in major transition times that require a proactive response, a massive mobilization now even though we will eat tomorrow – an understanding that by the time the real dramatic urgency is truly felt in physical form, it just might be too late.

    How, from a cultural mentoring perspective, might we mobilize that brand of consciousness so that we might activate the “Cultural Garden” movement?

    • Craig Brant
      Craig Brant says:

      Thanks Zelig, those thoughts pretty much echo what was going through my mind as I read. ie. that many people seem not to perceive the importance of say, connecting with nature as a solution to global warming or even food security. I am glad you mentioned the need to spark the same level of movement without the perceived urgency.

      A great question Mark ! I am not sure what I have in the way of answer. Yet I feel compelled every day to move in the direction of the change this article and your lead in suggest because I shown at one time how those things fit together. People seem to take care of what they need to and what they love.

      I am curious to hear others thoughts.

  2. Bob Eckert
    Bob Eckert says:

    Well Mark, and Zelig, and Craig–my first thoughts are going back to the secret spot routine and bird language and how to engage people in these activities. I introduce these to people from 6 to 60 whenever possible. Getting someone to really care about a specific place can build strong connections to place in general. I am thinking that there could be a way to engage many people, through these routines, in caring about a community place, and the whole community. Each secret spot could be like a Victory Garden, and they could be linked in neighborhoods to build a community-level of caring for the natural environment with shared observations at community gatherings. I think a lot of this would be coming from the kids, but the kids really influence parents.

    I need to keep thinking about this.


  3. markmorey
    markmorey says:

    Karianna Rosenberg says:

    ” Great thoughts Mark. The Victory Gardens are indeed an amazing example of changing/transforming culture on a big scale. A good model to keep in mind for sure. In response to your question “What would I put at the center of cultural mentoring during these times?” The first thing that comes to mind aside from nature connection, is storytelling and healing story work. Stories are such a powerful tool and a strong human trait. It is a medium through which so many ‘seeds’ can be planted. And when taken to the levels of Healing story work – it can truly transform. The amount of healing our society needs, along with nature connection and cultural mentoring, I believe using the power of stories as a medium to bring healing en-mass as well as on the individual level would greatly help. I am involved with the Healing Story Alliance. The work can be done from many angles. It has so much potential.”

  4. Kate Yeomans
    Kate Yeomans says:

    Great thoughts to sit with…. what comes to mind is campaigning something that is active, multi-generational, and marketable…. backyard/town park/community campfires/bonfires? Imagine the community building that happens then… Campfires make people stop, good conversations and storytelling takes place, pot-lucks are integral, and oh my, what could Patagonia and LL Bean do with a whole product line centered around building community, one backyard conversation at a time?

    Our community has a roaring good time at an annual Christmas tree bonfire each January, sponsored by the fire department:

    The WHOLE town turns out to see it…..

  5. Christine
    Christine says:

    Count me in! The ROCP process is allowing me to see that cultural mentoring is a path I am meant to walk and I love that there are visionaries like you Mark who are holding out possibilities and posing questions such as this. This reminds me of a vision I have thought about…that instead of a town having maybe one or two community gardens, it has a garden in each neighborhood where folks can share in the work and the bounty and perhaps even the raising of poultry or other small livestock. This would also serve as the “cultural” center where neighbors connect, celebrate and play. I wonder in the days of the victory garden how many connective pathways were forged between people and nature as a result of the gardening initiative.

    Such an astute observation about the lack of a perceived urgency in our society. We’ll just have to work around it. Perhaps we can dovetail nature connection and cultural mentoring with some of the local movements that are becoming more common such as local food and farmers markets? I can see making the 8 shields course “8 Gifts” into an experiential, in person, several-month-long course and running it in several local regions as a way to begin to create a larger network of folks experiencing this work…much like Jon Young describes when he envisions small webs of connectivity around the world that eventually connect into one large web.

    And thanks Karianna for the great resource in the Healing Stories Alliance!

  6. Erica
    Erica says:

    WWII gave us many examples of a generation pulling together. Victory Gardens were only one way the civilian population was involved in the ‘war effort.’ The victory gardens had local benefits, where other efforts like collecting scrap metal or other raw materials were more of a local sacrifice.
    Celebrities today also champion causes, like environmental issues and human rights. It has made a difference, but it’s not quite a unified national or cultural effort.
    What’s missing? I don’t see a coherent, governmental commitment to rallying people around these twin issues. And I don’t see consistent commitment from the wealthy to preserve a common future. Environmental degradation is a food and economic security issue, and resource scarcity is a human rights problem as well as an economic disaster in the making. For some reason, these issues are seen as ‘opposed’ to a booming economy. The only sense in which they’re opposed is that of immediate vs. long-term gains, and who reaps the major benefit of those gains.
    The country is artificially divided and polarized over these issues, and many others – what I call the ‘football fans’ version of politics.
    What would it take to rally us around the issues of common survival, and tune our economy to thrive beyond the petroleum age?

  7. Alan Brisley
    Alan Brisley says:

    Thanks for sharing the article and thoughts. There is a groundswell of interest in gardening right now and wouldn’t it be great to have a Victory Garden movement without the war to motivate the government to commit to it?!

    I have been hearing reports for some time of fantastic sounding statistics about the level of home scale (or in this case “dacha” scale) agricultural production in Russia. While a lot of the information on the web is multiple sites all quoting each other without original reference citings, I have found a fair number of original journalistic reports on the subject as well as the well cited PHd dissertation by leonid Sharashkin quoted below. Russia has apparently succeeded in maintaining the culturally embedded knowledge of how to grow its own food in a massive way and is doing it to the tune of more than half of the food consumed in Russia! And this is accomplished on a very small percentage of the agricultural land, demonstrating the effectiveness (versus efficiency) of small scale, love grown food.

    “Key macroeconomic characteristics
    Productivity: share of GDP and agricultural output

    In 2004, agricultural production of dacha gardeners (urban) and subsidiary plot cultivators (rural) amounted to 51% (by value) of the total agricultural output of the Russian Federa- tion (Rosstat 2006). This represents 384 billion rubles (approx. US$14 bn at the then cur- rent exchange rate), or 2.3% of Russia’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP). This is greater, for example, than the contribution to the GDP of the whole electric power generation in- dustry (317 bn rubles); significantly greater than all of forestry, wood-processing, and pulp and paper industry combined (180 bn); significantly greater than the coal (54 bn), natural gas (63 bn), and oil refining (88 bn) industries combined. (See Figure 1.)” (Leonid Sharaskin, Doctoral Dissertation 2008)

    Unfortunately, we are now at least two full generations distant from the still largely rural working class roots of the young adults of the 40’s Victory Garden era. My own parents (born 1915 and 1925) both had absorbed the knowledge and skill to grow, hunt, slaughter and preserve their own food through their working class cultural mentoring experience by the time they were 15 years old. It was, however, not valued or appreciated. It was unconscious competence. None of their skill or knowledge was passed on directly to me. I got a little a little bit from my grandparents and one uncle who became an Ag. Professor and was an avid camper and fisherman. Now two more generations have passed and even fewer people hold the base skills of food production.

    I am fortunate to have found farmers and teachers to mentor and train me and have enjoyed 27 years of organic gardening and commercial farming. I am struck with the necessity of passing on what I have learned. It is definitely a cultural mentoring process that develops people to the point where they have skills and the confidence to start growing their own food not to mention the awareness and observation skills required to do a good job.

    I just decided to offer a five month “Work-To-Learn” class for beginning gardeners which will be a cultural mentoring experience for the participants – 4hrs per week of mentored work and nature observation (and fresh meal sharing, singing, etc.) in which participants will share the produce we grow together. I am very curious to find out whether people will be attracted to this opportunity for time intensive hands-on learning, versus knowledge based teaching. Knowlege is helpful, but alone it does not generate confidence. And without confidence people don’t garden. I know that the only way to develop confidence with the gardening skill set is to practice it. I’m hoping for the best!

    Food is a great focal point for culture and cultural mentoring. Soil, Food, Health Forever!

  8. Rachel
    Rachel says:

    My thoughts are both that A) this is amazing and how much more could we do today with such collective action? I believe we could solve world hunger in addition to an enormous amount of other global crises with such collective and social action and public and resource support. Yet on the other hand, B) we’ve become as North Americans, so food secure since, healthy or not, that nobody is hungry enough to engage this type of movement together, in fact there are more obese and over weight people in the world now then malnourished. Food security is no longer the issue but food quality now is and that is a lot more subtle and slow way to die… People feel instant gratification and false security by stuffing themselves that they’re too lethargic, self consumed and then isolated in shame and a constant feeling of not good enough by the mass society portrayed and sold by the media that complacency and apathy dominates all occasional or perhaps even frequent urges to unite together to create real and meaningful change in such a mass community as an entire country

  9. markmorey
    markmorey says:

    Hi Mark,

    A culture is many things together, from language and place, to spiritual beliefs and relationships to the land and its native creatures and plants, to ways of harvesting, living and feeding oneself, one’s family and one’s community, and how that is organized. It is what is of value in that culture that defines it.

    I find much lacking in that last part of THIS culture we are in. We are looking for value and meaning so hard that we overlook our rich present in people and their knowledge of this land and its seasons and traditions…

    Thus…reaching out and being inclusive of who the “mentors” are…reaching out to people who simply have some knowledge, some LOVE or passion about something…to share…would seem to be a really productive tool for “mentoring” a culture.

    In Alaska where I spent several decades, the sobriety movement among the Native Alaskans had two key ingredients – a revival of the native languages – several of which were almost completely lost and saved in literally the last tick of time before the last speaking elder passed – a revival of the traditional rituals and ceremonies that had to be taught by the elders as they were the only ones who remembered – and a return to a relationship with the land, and community – as a cultural identity. Its helped hundreds if not thousands of Alaskan Natives reclaim their pride in who they are and stay sober.

    Here – we have a Vermont culture that is unique to Vermont. Different from NH, different from NY, different from MA, and different from our neighbors to the North, though we are more like them than not. There are still people who live in Vermont and haven’t been run out of the state with taxes who know and understand that land and its rich diversity…and what real community means. THEY need to be tapped. Not the johnny come lately’s. These people need to be honored and the children given the honor of learning from them, before they are gone.

    Vermont’s culture is disappearing into gentrification, urban yuppiedom, and uber athleticism that has little connection to the Vermont I grew up in…that was unhurried, according to the seasons, community oriented, and based on town meetings that everyone took the day off to attend. Schools were closed. It took all day.

    Just some thoughts…good question. Thanks for giving me this opportunity to think about it and respond.

    Many many blessings my friend,

  10. markmorey
    markmorey says:

    hello Mark!

    Your question- effective way to create change in a community– hmm– personal reflections on your question:
    Years and years ago, I attended a women’s consciousness raising retreat with a group of women I knew a little from our local group, and many other women. The message that has stuck with me these many years is, if you reflect on your own experience, and hear others express feelings on their own similar experiences, what starts as personal becomes linked to the universal, and from there to action. The personal becomes political.
    In the Sierra Club- forgive me if I misremember history, but it’s similar- if we LOVE the land, the earth, the wilderness, then our personal love will motivate us to take care of it, practically, politically, etc.
    I like kids- usually I like people- I have always worked with kids- but when I had my own, the love and connection and joy was so profound that it opened my heart more to other kids (and former kids now adults). An imperfect, unfinished process! but anyway, there it is.
    Martin Luther King Jr used the phrase, the beloved community.
    Over the weekend we went to a house party- I know the wife quite well, the husband less so- but he gave me an amazing gift, he took me aside and asked, so how did it go for you, how is your son doing now in his new school? and he gave me his full, quiet attention, asked questions that showed great kindness and insight.
    By the way I know the wife through work on land preservation together. It’s all about love. True connections, start small, generalize.

    Happy holidays. Keep writing, I’m listening.

  11. markmorey
    markmorey says:

    Hello Mark,

    Wow, I didn’t know so many people had to start gardening anew back then. And it seems to really help, when food storage doesn’t make you a suspect of ‘terrism’ or regulations about selling small lot produce is actually understandable and the selling is legal. In one word, it is harder to work against your own government.

    Another current movement I have in mind is Occupy. The constant government thwarting effort weirds so many people out, but the enthusiasm and the lack of choice of the participants still carry a lot of energy.

    In Hungary the total clarity, that the government is your enemy was very energizing even though everything had to be done underground. But that was a social norm. In the US the general confusion about the government’s actual position, and how this conflicts with feelings of patriotism is a big hindrance to self organizing movements.

    Plus we still have way too much to loose. Like you write, when malnutrition is a big problem, people can be convinced much easier about growing food, then when you only have a vague idea that the tasty (fatty?) and cheap food you buy in supermarkets is not that good for you.


  12. markmorey
    markmorey says:

    Happy Holidays Mark,

    nice to hear from you.
    about your ideas on cultural mentoring. I would like to see it applied to the quest for life’s work, and work to support daily living. how to help young people make those hard choices and how to actually find work that is enjoyable and reasonable. Max Neef…a wonderful economist has some great ideas on economics and human needs. I love his work. I know lots of young ones are going into college and into professions without alot of background on how the system is somewhat broken. i talk to some and they are willing to jump into 50,000 dollars of debt just to make some headway. they want to be educated and want to find their profession. they definitely need someone to talk with to find out how they can satisfy multiple needs with their job and money.

    best thoughts i have on that right now.

    i wish you Peace and Joy for the new year. I’ll stay in touch. Please let me know what you think about the growing of AOM.


  13. markmorey
    markmorey says:

    Great question. I believe wholeheartedly that community homesteading is a lifestyle that can be intentionally mentored for conscious relationship with all beings. That, for me is at the heart of the next millenium. Victory gardens on the ground, inside the human heart and shared.

    Thanks for asking!


  14. Timothy
    Timothy says:

    Hi Mark and Everyone.
    I don’t feel that I’m one to speak for the wider world. I believe that connection is most possible on a local level. My own watershed, neighborhood, school, family.
    I’m really enjoying two beautiful practices and cultural elements coming together in my small circle: Peacemaking and Music.
    I’m co-leading with a grandmother a weekly meeting to practice “Sacred Conversation,” where deep listening and honesty combine to reveal the spirit and humanity that connects us. It comes out of my studies to be certified as a Nonviolent Communication trainer. In slowing down and speaking this way in a group, subtle and powerful shifts happen in our lives.
    I’m also hosting music sessions in my home once a month, where we begin by each requesting what he or she needs from our time together. Lots of creativity comes out then, and lots of fun!
    And, on Christmas day, I just learned a song with my sister who “doesn’t sing” and me on the guitar as a beginner. How that changed the whole day.
    Happy Renewal everyone.
    Thanks Mark for your leadership.
    -Timothy in Mill Valley, CA

  15. Jeannine
    Jeannine says:

    Hi Mark!

    Thanks for inviting me into the first call of the call series tonight. It was a great call and the stories you shared were very effective at hitting the Rite of Competence.

  16. Cindy Campbell
    Cindy Campbell says:

    I live in a rural suburb (Oxford, CT) that contains large pockets of undeveloped land, with each pocket edged by some civilized development, homes usually. I have had experiences living here which has opened up my consciousness to these large pockets of undeveloped land that have been here all along, right under my nose without my even knowing that they are there.

    I hung out in another Mom’s backyard while our children played and I commented on the beautiful swamp that we could see down the hill and through some trees from where we sat. She proceeded to tell me all the activities her family, other families with their back yards leading into this swamp, have done there. Canoeing through the canals in the summer, skating them in the winter, and more. She said it was a magical place and everyone loved it. The families that actually owned the land were fine with it, she said.

    I picked up my daughter from a friend’s and the mother said they were off in the woods somewhere and it might take them a few minutes to get back. They were supposed to be watching their time piece and be back by about now. It was drizzling with mild temperatures. As we waited she explained that this huge tract of land was owned by someone who didn’t mind any of the neighbors using it. People cross-country ski or do their running exercise on the trails. There is a wonderful stream — beautiful, that she goes down to as well and that’s where the kids spend most of their time. She mentioned more uses of the woods as well.

    A neighbor likes to hike with his kids, taking off right from his front door. Near us was one of those pockets of land that he had not been aware of. I was amaze after I realized it existed by my lack of awareness of it. I invited his family to share a hike with us into and out of this pocket. We did. It felt a bit daring crossing and walking on other peoples land. No one was anywhere near about. The land was of high elevation which gave it a distant, removed sense of place.

    There are many, many, many more of these places in Oxford than I will ever know. I imagine there are thousands and thousands of these places throughout all of Connecticut.

    Proposing to heads of town governments a way to develop community using their Land Trust, Parks & Recreation and other departments or civic groups as the channel for action; using local government, the way a police department provides for a Neighborhood Crime Watch. The professionals consulting in Community Mentoring provide the model and ensure that the course of action proceeds to success. At first thought I imagine the process would involve identifying rural pockets amidst the civil development and engaging those interested, of the homeowners surrounding these pockets and the landowners owning these pockets, to participate as they wish. The Community Mentoring would then facilitate the community’s designing of itself, hopefully leaving them with a growing, living future, together.


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