Written by Patricia O’Brien, Colorado Master Gardener, 2018
If you are anything like me and you have a good internet connection, 2020 provided a plethora of interesting programs and lectures to explore on your home device in your own time without the necessity of a subscription. CSU Extension sponsored many opportunities for learning including Unlikely Blooms: Tale of the WW2 Victory Garden presented by Dr. Bonnie Clark, Professor & Curator of Archaeology in the Department of Anthropology at the University of Denver, on December 9, 2020.
This presentation was especially relevant to Master Gardeners at this time due to our renewed interest in growing produce for private and public consumption such as encouraged in 2020 by Extension’s Grow and Give and Edible Landscapes programs. As the backdrop to Dr. Clark’s fascinating presentation, she referred to the development of Victory gardens, first during World War I and then vastly expanded after the bombing of Pearl Harbor during World War II. A surprising fact that Dr. Clark noted was that by 1945, forty percent of the nation’s produce came from Victory Gardens.
A dark chapter to our history, soon after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, was the detainment of over 7,000 Japanese, most being American citizens, who were not charged with any wrongdoing, but were forcibly imprisoned at ten camps in the Western United States. One of those Camps was officially named the Granada Relocation Center, outside of the small town of Granada in southeast Colorado about ten miles from the Colorado-Kansas state line. Many of the incarcerated people came from the West coast area of temperate California, where undoubtedly many were already gardening and on board with Victory gardens, when they were moved to the windy, semi-arid high plains of Colorado. Grenada Relocation’s Center’s unofficial name became “Amache,” named after a Cheyenne Indian Chief’s daughter who married a prominent cattle rancher in the area and was used after a mail mix-up between the Camp and the town less than two miles away. Clark said of the central square mile of the Camp that it was located on a sandy terrace surrounded by barb wire and a lookout tower above the valley floor that was “minimally productive,” best known for hardy prairie plants such as yucca, and mostly used for grazing cattle.
Dr. Clark’s research and subsequent book published by the University of Colorado in 2020 is based on field research she has led and conducted since 2008 with DU students, Granada high school volunteers, and Amache survivors and descendants in a process she calls “landscape archeology.” What that means is uncovering not only artifacts, but also collecting and analyzing environmental data. Dr. Clark refers to the site as one that represents living history by what can be learned about the construction and the use of the landscape, by the hands and resources of the people who lived there. The techniques used by the research teams include intensive walking of the landscape to identify visible materials and the use of sonar equipment that indicates botanical and non-botanical material under the soil surface.
Members of the research teams also engaged in archival methods and interviews of descendants of those incarcerated at Amache to complete the story of growing food at the Camp during the period they were held. One of the interesting tidbits she shared was the documentation of the active involvement of residents in the local Granada Fair in which individuals competed for recognition of the quality of their produce, at one time bring awarded for the taste, texture and sweetness of their celery and often winning notice for their onion production. Dr. Clark and colleagues identified what family members grew in their plots by analyzing preserved pollen spores in the soil.
In 2005, Amache was designated as a historic site, which provided greater support to the research and the development of the Amache museum in Granada which holds a collection of found and donated objects. Currently, Amache is proceeding through a somewhat delayed process of review to become a National Park (Pueblo Chieftain, 2/16/2021, p.6A). Both Dr. Clark’s presentation (see link) and her book include fascinating pictures of these twentieth century gardeners on the high plains of Colorado that in many ways reflects their resilience and ingenuity during a painful chapter of American life.
Link to the presentation here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hIGEsT9uu5c&feature=youtu.be
Dr. Clark’s book, Finding Solace in the soil: An Archeology of gardens and gardeners at Amache is available for checkout at the Pueblo City-County library district