World leaders at the time realized that encouraging citizens to grow fresh food gave substantial help to the practical matter of feeding the populace when food was strictly rationed as well as bolstering morale and patriotism.
Australia, Germany, the United Kingdom, and the United States were among the countries that used slogans for the phrase “victory garden” during World I and World War II to encourage its citizens to grow fresh food for their families.
Although families growing vegetables, fruits, and herbs to save money was not a new tactic, the shared world-wide strife seemed to inspire each of these nations to concentrate its collective mind on how the hobby of gardening could sustain, or even improve, the lives of their citizens.
Vegetable gardens in the front yard, often frowned upon, were acceptable during war-time. Copyright image courtesy of National Garden Bureau, used with permission.
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Beyond the substance, people felt empowered in a common commitment to grow their own food, neighbor to neighbor.
The habit of sharing, generally, is common among gardeners, even in the modern technology-laden age, and gardeners use it for trading seeds and plants, too.
Growing Food to Feed Citizens During World Wars
War quickly made growing tomatoes and potatoes serious business. While the government remodeled automobile factories for building Patton’s, Montgomery’s, and Rommel’s tanks, homeowners spaded over decorative landscapes for growing kitchen gardens.
Growing food outside the front door was suddenly acceptable even in symmetrically designed gardens where clean lines were the rule.
Conservation was key during wartime. Image by the United States Government.
Victory gardens were also called “war gardens” or “liberty gardens” and slogans like “grow your own, can your own” were catchy enough to serve as codes that gave neighbors a feel they were let into a secret club.
The implication being that everyone was in “it” together; that they were growing food for their families, and the soldiers, and, without putting too fine a point on it, in defense of country. President Woodrow Wilson’s administration, during World War I, even put out posters proclaiming, “Food will win the war.”
During World War II, the San Francisco Golden Gate Park created more than 250 garden plots from its beautiful space. If such a prestigious public park was giving over beds for root crops, what private citizen had the nerve to bark at growing a few tubers, especially if it made his or her dinner more appetizing?
From world leaders to local organizations and school children, everyone chipped in; people already skilled in gardening gave a leg-up to families new to growing food. Not many people argued over this when it gave families the ability to have healthier diets while shortages existed.
A public victory garden demonstration in Washington, D.C. uses coconut fiber edging in depicting growing food during World War II. Image by Smithsonian National Museum of American History.
Victory Gardens Propagate Modern Community Gardens
People who learned to garden during the World Wars or other crises, like economic depressions, brought their planting beds and skills into the modern era.
Gardeners banded together and created community gardens, maintained original victory gardens, or developed new programs that added stepping stones to the premise that growing food built healthier communities.
Communities benefited from the victory gardens during times of crisis. As the years passed, locations revamped the gardens or built new ones.
The Dowling Community Garden in Minneapolis, Minnesota, has evolved from its victory garden status during WWII, but retains its main principle to provide a place to grow plants, including food.
The Fenway Victory Garden on Boylston Street has the distinction of being the last surviving victory garden in the United States. The Boston public garden was famous in the WWII era.
Twenty-first century victory gardens might be under other names, but their purpose remains the same: to teach people to grow food. Today, victory garden-styled planting beds are on the increase and we see demonstration gardens in:
Plant a Row for the Hungry programs share excess harvests with soup kitchens and homeless shelters. Copyright image courtesy of Garden Writers Association, used with permission.
- The Victory Garden television show began in the mid-1970s and is the oldest gardening program in the United States. Primarily produced for growing food, the program morphed into more ornamental growing in the 21st century.
- In 2009, First Lady Michelle Obama planted the first kitchen garden at the White House since Eleanor Roosevelt. The kitchen garden produces food for family and visitors and maintenance of the garden will continue, at least through President Obama’s administration.
- A victory garden recreation is on the east lawn at the Smithsonian Gardens at National Museum of American History in Washington, D.C. The display uses older heirloom plant varieties that would have been around during WWII. On the Smithsonian’s website, the story of Mary Scott appears to the tune of Bing Crosby crooning “Road to Victory.”
Victory Gardens a Sense of Our Past Out of World Troubles
Large food gardens are iconic, but growing food to feed a family is possible in a raised bed or on a balcony, too. Copyright image courtesy of National Garden Bureau, used with permission.
Victory gardens began as large beds that were designed for growing vegetable, fruit, and herb plants for feeding people at a time of strife. Citizens grew food to supplement their rations and sustain their families.
The movement to grow food at home during times of supply shortages has evolved into modern-day versions meant to encourage citizens to grow fresh food out of habit.
Beyond growing for our own families, sharing excess bounty of foodstuffs and skills helps reduce poverty.
The Garden Writers Association began the Plant a Row for the Hungry promotion out of the realization that gardeners always have extra harvests.
The renewal of food gardening at the White House has been an example for school children, encouraging schools to develop their own programs and teach children to grow plants.
The Victory Garden television program continues to encourage people to grow gardens. Image by Public Broadcasting Service
Victory Gardens Benefit Our Community
Victory gardens, comprised of vegetables, fruits, and herbs, were acceptable during wars and economic declines, growing food in any spare open space, in private yards and public parks. The kitchen gardens gave people a chance at reducing the negative social pressure of relying on rationing cards or food stamps.
Along the way we realized, the habit of growing food never goes out of style.
© Copyright 2015 Chris Eirschele, All rights Reserved. Written For: Decoded Past