Victory Gardens: Then and Now

Victory gardens during both world wars produced food for soldiers. A modern version of victory gardens are still in use today, serving a different role.

| Fall 2014

During the two world wars, when opposing blocs of industrialized nations tried to conquer each other, infrastructure was strained to the breaking point, even in the United States. Feeding armies of millions of men required an inconceivable volume of food, leaving shortages on the home front. The cry went up for the public to raise as much food as possible on the home grounds. The public was exhorted to grow “victory gardens.” Today, victory gardens of a different kind are being grown throughout the land, although the situation appears quite different from that of wartime America.

World War I

The first mention of victory gardens occurred during World War I, in which the United States participated from 1917 to 1918. At the time, they were called “war gardens” or “liberty gardens.” In this country, the drive for victory gardens was spearheaded by Charles Lathrop Pack, who organized the National War Garden Commission. In The War Garden Victorious, published in 1919, Pack “wishing, as every patriot wished, to do a war work which was actually necessary, which was essentially practical, and which would most certainly aid in making the war successful, conceived the idea in March, 1917, of inspiring the people of the United States to plant war gardens in order to increase the supply of food.”

It was realized that enormous quantities of food could be produced in millions of family gardens, with no loss in crucial industrial man-hours (desperately needed in factories), and with no transportation expense, which in turn freed-up transportation for wartime uses. Other countries did the same. In fact, the American program was modeled upon earlier European programs. In Europe, where the war was mainly fought, food production had been devastated by initial fighting, years before the United States entered the war.

Neither television nor radio had been invented, but the major media of the day were utilized skillfully. Posters and advertisements in periodicals stressed that home food production was a key component to victory. One 1918 poster, still widely reproduced, depicts Lady Liberty, clad in red, white and blue, broadcasting seed, with her nose perhaps a trifle too high in the air. The caption read: “Sow the seeds of Victory... every garden a munitions plant.” Another, none too subtle, exhorted the American public to “Can Vegetables, Fruit, and the Kaiser too.”

Not only was the food itself crucial, but the program had a major effect upon morale (and therefore, on public support for the war), giving the folks at home an important task, and making everyone feel a part of the war effort. In the amazingly short span of a couple of seasons, some 5 million new gardens were created, which produced some $1.2 billion worth of food!

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