Home Grown Independence

Home Food Supply Certificateweb-by Melissa Moore France- Area farmers, Mr. and Mrs. (Ethel Blake) Lonzo Dixon Tanner, of Union City, Tennessee, Route #1, were awarded the Tennessee Home Food Supply Program Certificate of Recognition on December 3, 1940.

The document states: “This Certificate of Recognition for meritorious achievement in having grown 75% or more of all the food necessary for the family and livestock, and in leadership for better living in the community and State of Tennessee, is awarded by the Governor of the State of Tennessee.”

The certificate somehow traveled out of the Tanner family’s possession over the last 75 years and eventually landed in the home of Dresden, Tennessee resident Roger Laird — without him knowing it.

Governor Prentice Cooper began the Home Food Supply Program in 1940 as a response to the Depression and in preparation for the U.S. entering World War II. The program encouraged farmers to replace cash crops with food crops. It augmented rationing and was continued throughout the war. By 1944, 85% of Tennessee’s farms were enrolled in the program and 30 other states had adopted similar programs. American citizens rallied together to grow victory gardens on any patch of dirt available, an effort that ended up supplying 40 percent of the nation’s wartime food supply. What a huge accomplishment in a short period of time. The effort put forth in growing food was viewed as a patriotic activity and boosted morale on the homefront.

Twenty years ago, Laird bought a box of items at an auction in Gibson County, Tennessee. The box contained a framed picture of a snow-covered cottage that Laird admired so he hung it on his office wall. One day the picture fell off the wall and the frame broke. While removing the picture from the broken frame, he discovered the certificate issued to L.D. Tanner. Laird tried finding the family of the recipient by asking around locally and researching on the Internet. Finally his word or mouth efforts paid off. Seventy-five years later, Lonzo Dixon Tanner’s certificate of recognition was returned to his family, grandson Elwin Tanner and great-grandson Ethan Tanner.

When World War II ended, home and community food gardening decreased. Today Treehugger, a media outlet focused on sustainability, reports “that Americans now tend 35 million acres of lawn (approximately 54,000 square miles). Lawns are the biggest crop in the U.S. …” New York Times food columnist Mark Bittman has pointed out that if only 10 percent of Americans converted lawns into food-producing gardens, it would supply one-third of America’s fresh produce.

However, according to a 2013 report titled “Garden to Table: A 5-Year Look at Gardening in America” and published by the National Gardening Association, food gardening in the U.S. has increased quite substantially. The report states:

* 35% of all households in America, or 42 million households, are growing food at home or in a community garden, up 17% in five years

* Largest increases in participation seen among younger households – up 63% to 13 million since 2008

* 2 million more households community gardening — up 200% since 2008

Founding father Thomas Jefferson, known for his passion for growing vegetables and fruit, believed that America was incapable of true democracy unless 20 percent of its citizens were self-sufficient on small farms. He believed that only if people were self-sufficient could they be truly free to voice opinions and beliefs because they would not be relying on food producers to live. Who knew independence could rise up from dirt–whether it be in a rooftop container garden, a window box, or a small backyard plot.

The Tanner father-son team are continuing the farming tradition today and living on Lonzo Dixion Tanner’s last homeplace in the Pleasant Hill community in Obion County, Tennessee. Elwin’s wife Brenda continues to tend a vegetable and herb garden and preserve food for her family.