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Victory Gardens Sprout Up Again

People are borrowing an old wartime concept to lessen the need for mass-produced food, reduce pollution, form communities and save on grocery bills.

These days, digging some holes and planting a little lettuce or a few beets is a political act. Just ask Julie Stern, who shares a backyard organic garden with her neighbor in Topanga Canyon. Stern worked at the polls on election day. "There's a feeling you had," she said. "You saw your neighbors, and you felt good about what you did." Growing food, she added, "I sort of do feel the same way."

Or ask Sandra Young, who put two raised beds in the neatly kept frontyard of her Westside house.

"For me, it's much more a political question than a gardening question," Young said, adding that when her family moved to the house 10 years ago, she asked: "What are we doing with all this grass?" Though she claimed she had too little time to be a top-notch gardener, last month beets, carrots, lettuces, basil and parsley were growing steps from her front door. Gardening, she said, is one thing she can do, "a step in the right direction."

Decades ago, the victory gardens planted at the behest of the federal government helped the United States cope with food shortages during World War II. (In World War I, they were liberty gardens.) By 1943, Americans planted more than 20 million victory gardens -- at homes and schools and in parks -- that were reported to produce 8 million tons of food that one old film called "America's hidden weapon."

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