Growing Our Lady’s Victory Garden
With gas prices soaring and grocery bills at an all-time high, a Connecticut family seeks to help others on a journey of cultivation.
Rising food prices. Inflation. Supply shortages. What can a family do to help keep nutritious food on the table?
The Kaufman family — Seth and Blythe and their children — has an answer: Plant an “Our Lady’s Victory Garden.”
They have found their garden beneficial to everything from food to spiritual growth for the family.
The Kaufmans have planted their own Our Lady’s Victory Garden on their quarter acre in their Connecticut neighborhood 4 miles from the state capital. The garden produces a plentiful harvest.
Already this spring, the purple potatoes and banana fingerling potatoes were at the ready to make a great salad. Swiss chard, spinach, lettuce, beets, leeks, Spanish yellow onions, red onions, parsley, celery, kale, radishes, snow peas, sugar snap peas and more were growing, plus tomatoes, peppers, eggplant and basil started from seed. The Kaufman family also grow bushes and trees that yield food, such as elderberries, courants, gooseberries and apples.
“My first memories were helping my mother in our vegetable garden,” Blythe Kaufman recalled to the Register. “Inflation was raging in the late ’70s and early ’80s. Many were encouraged to put in a Victory Garden. We were like many at the time. Now, with circumstances mirroring those difficult times when food prices were surging, it is important families make use of the kitchen garden.”
Her early experience and continuous love of gardening led her to spend years teaching her own three children — daughter Alina and sons Konstantin and Asher — how to grow food in the family vegetable garden.
As the family’s garden grew, so did the Kaufmans’ desire to share their way of life.
“In prayer, especially this past Advent and Christmas, contemplation of the Holy Family and their beautiful simplicity began to open my eyes to the graces that seemed to be poured into a family that cherishes a simpler way of life,” she explained. “We have embraced a simplicity of life that brings with it great joy as we participate in bringing food to our table. In its simplicity I also feel great grace flowing. To help bring food to your table is a special experience for a child and a family. We can meet and understand the providence of God in a special way when we are working the land, albeit even on a quarter acre.”
Our Lady quickly became part of the family’s gardening efforts. “The name we chose for our garden — Our Lady’s Victory Garden — gives honor to the Mother of God, Mary, who wants only the best for all her children,” she explained.
At the same time, Kaufman finds God while she is active in the garden. She describes how “so often Scripture comes alive for me as I am working or harvesting in the garden. The garden has always been a special place where I see many of the truths of the Gospels unfold.” In the planting and tending, “We can see many of the mysteries of the faith. The garden and agriculture were always a favorite means for Jesus to teach,” including the Parable of the Sower. “So it is not a surprise that when we spend time in the garden we begin to understand more about our faith and dependence on God.”
In gardening, Kaufman saw something else grow that has come to feed scores of souls. As she recalled, “Our Lord used my lifelong experience in the garden to help unpack the St. Louis de Montfort consecration in a way even young people can understand. The garden allegory, which opens my book Child Consecration: To Jesus Through Mary — Following in the Spirit of St. Thérèse, the Little Flower, drew directly from my experiences in the garden, even back to the time when I was a young girl working with my mother and then later when my own daughter was helping me.”
Lately, Kaufman has been particularly drawn to Our Lady of Victory. (That title was first given to Our Lady by St. Pius V as a result of her intercession in the victory of Lepanto.) “I usually ask for the intercession of certain saints and Our Lady under different titles. Over the last five months I really felt drawn to call for Our Lady’s intercessions as Our Lady of Victory. It’s interesting to see the connection drawn from prayers to work time in the garden, not only in asking for things but listening in our spiritual life.”
Kaufman’s experiences in gardening planted another idea. “In prayer, I felt moved to share what we as a family have been doing for years,” she said. She saw a need for mentorship for the increasing number of those either starting new gardens or expanding an existing garden. Grateful to have Our Lady’s Victory Garden in these difficult times, her family hoped to help others to bring food to their own tables in the same way “and embrace a greater simplicity of life.”
To follow through, this year on March 25, the family launched the Our Lady’s Victory Garden website (OurLadysVictoryGarden.com), a resource, Kaufman said, for individuals and families to learn how to put in a Victory Garden in the same spirit of the Victory Gardens that people grew during World War II or in the 1970s.
The website not only has easy-to-understand tips, directions and plans that the family shares, but it is also the base for their high-quality videos straight from the garden highlighting the family’s day-to-day experiences growing food in all four seasons. That includes using almost no pesticides and very little fertilizer, instead making use of techniques that improve soil quality with organic matter from the yard and kitchen, plus “companion planting” that helps improve plant health and limit disease and harmful insects. For example, tomatoes are protected by marigold companions. (And marigolds happen to be named after Mary — Mary’s Gold.)
Others are already benefiting. Next-door neighbor James Schulz has watched the Kaufmans’ garden expand over the last few years. Inspired to begin his first garden this year, he walked around the Kaufmans’ Our Lady’s Victory Garden, with Blythe giving him lessons and tips on planting and gardening. “She keeps an eye on us and notices our tomato plants doing well,” he said. “It’s great to have her next to us to help us form our garden.” Schulz has also checked out the new Our Lady’s Victory Garden videos. He said while he “can go over the fence and ask questions, the website is a great opportunity for other folks” to learn gardening tips and how good such time with God’s creation is “mentally and physically for you.”
“I have been truly inspired by Blythe myself,” Ellen Fox said, calling Our Lady’s Victory Garden “remarkable” when she saw it. Considering Kaufman “an amazing gardener,” in March she decided to start gardening and asked Kaufman if it was the right time to start tomato seeds inside. “She was excited I was asking about doing a Victory Garden.”
In fact, Fox has started her family’s garden with not only tomatoes but zucchini, summer squash and carrots, plus an herb garden with basil, cilantro, garlic and more, using tips from Kaufman. “She’s so approachable and kind and generous in her knowledge,” Fox said. She hopes others will be inspired, too. “Our Blessed Mother always wants the best for her children. It has always been a blessing to have a kitchen garden, but given the world events, it is even more important to take the dive into gardening,” she explained.
The family’s techniques also accommodate and inspire gardeners with physical restrictions. As Kaufman, who has a genetic joint disability, encouraged, “Maybe it is because I struggle so much with a physical disability that I began to feel that if we could bring food to our table, others could as well, even those who have limitations.” Adapting the family’s gardening to waist level with raised beds aids her efforts. “Those with bad backs may also like this idea,” she said, “or anyone who prefers to stand as opposed to kneel while they garden.”
In fact, the disability also brought the whole family into gardening 15 years ago. Kaufman recalled, “I realized if we were going to have a garden, the rest of the family was going to have to help. Over the years, instead of getting on the ground and doing the gardening myself, I stood over my daughter and sons and showed them from the tiniest seedling what was a tomato and what was a weed. They became so comfortable in the garden that as teenagers they can plant a garden or weed one with almost no help.”
They also see the benefits.
Fifteen-year-old Asher shared, “I think that the Victory Garden does provide a way to become more independent and self-sustainable. The more one can become simply in the world and not of it, the more it enables one to become closer to God, and I think the Victory Garden helps to make that possible.”
Today, Kaufman finds another side to the growing interest in gardening culturally. She finds people now are looking seriously at the possible “effects of supply-chain disruptions and rising inflation. And gardening seems even more relevant.”
Despite the outlook, Kaufman thinks “the Blessed Virgin Mary wants all of her children to be taken care of. Having a garden is potentially a way that she’s going to help her children get through tough times. If every person grew something in their yard, it would help to ease the strain on the food supply.”
She is also ready to explore canning and winter gardening in earnest, ready to share her family’s efforts with others following their journey.
“Our Lady is always preparing us for what’s coming.”