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Winning the war
Gainesville woman recalls the necessity of a victory garden for both morale and survival
Dee Ridley, center, talks with Master Gardeners Toby Blackwell, left, and Martine Olson at the victory garden at the Northeast Georgia History Center. Ridley gave a lecture Tuesday on victory gardens and surviving the Depression. - photo by Tom Reed

At 96 years old, Dee Ridley knows a thing or two about surviving tough times.

As a teenager during the Great Depression, she learned how to stretch the food from her family’s farm.

“Growing up with not so much money, I would save a lot of stuff,” said Ridley, a Gainesville resident and avid gardener.

“My parents bought a bunch of dried apples and I cut the cores out and saved them. When I had about a cup full or more, I would boil them on the stove in water, add a little sugar and make jelly.”

That know-how and knowledge was just what the Hall County Master Gardeners were looking for when they invited Ridley out to the victory garden they maintain at the Northeast Georgia History Center on Academy Street in Gainesville.

Donning her red and white gingham gardening bonnet, Ridley jumped right in, smoothing the soil in the raised beds with a rake.

According to Toby Blackwell, a master gardener, the group is striving to make the garden as authentic as possible. During World War II, the U.S. government began encouraging citizens to plant their own “victory gardens” to produce their own fruits and vegetables.

In addition to helping families be more self sufficient, the gardens also freed up factory supplies, labor and trucks to be used towards war efforts.

The Hall Master Gardeners were looking to Ridley for advice about things that would have been planted in an authentic victory garden.

“Well, we’d have onions, potatoes and beans. Green beans,” Ridley said.

“And tomatoes. Always tomatoes. That’s just automatic.”

You also don’t want to forget your carrots and turnip greens.

“You need all those,” Ridley said.

Another key component to an authentic victory garden is a sense of community.

“People started planting those gardens because they didn’t have very much money for food,” said Ridley, who still prefers growing her crops the old fashioned way — from seeds.

“Everybody shared. None of us had a whole lot, but everything was shared with the neighbors.”

When sharing still doesn’t deplete your bountiful harvest of herbs, Ridley knows just what to do.

“I dry them,” Ridley said.

“I spread them out on paper towel and lay them on a flat surface to dry.

“Don’t pile them up. Spread it out in a thin layer. And don’t put it in the sun — that takes away some of the flavor.”

Even though victory gardens aren’t as popular as they once were, that doesn’t mean that Ridley has given up on the lessons she learned during that time period.

When Master Gardener Martine Olsen brought her a giant turnip, Ridley wasn’t looking to get blood from it, but she did squeeze out multiple meals.

“I cut the leaves down to the turnip and cooked those,” Ridley said.

“Then I put the turnip in a little bowl of water. Now, all of a sudden, here comes new leaves sprouting up.
“That’s what I call recycling.”

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