Win the Food War with a Victory Garden

People have been gardening since someone discovered that if you plant seeds in the ground, plants would grow. Well before preservatives and processed cheese food (??) made it into grocery stores, fruit and vegetables fed the hungry masses and wheat and corn made the bread. But did you know that during the two world wars there was a concerted effort to farm in support of the war effort?

Yep. They were called victory gardens, and today we’re going to learn their history and how you can support the effort right now with your own victory garden plans.

World War I Victory Gardens

When the first world war erupted, the United States stayed out of it, after all – it was some European countries arguing over European issues. That all changed May 7, 1915 when a German torpedo struck and sunk the passenger ship Lusitania. Now American men were headed overseas to support Allied forces. This meant there were less men to work in factories and farms and their fields and crops were going to waste. Considering this situation had occurred in Europe several years earlier, this meant there were a lot of people going hungry or facing food insecurity.

RMS Lusitania torpedoed by a German submarine on May 7, 1915.

So, to help feed 120 million people who were facing possible starvation, the National War Garden Commission was founded by Charles Lethrop Pack – you can still find the original books online. The motto: “to arouse the patriots of America to the importance of putting all idle land to work, to teach them how to do it, and to educate them to conserve by canning and drying all food that they could not use while fresh.”

Mina Van Winkle in uniform poses with fresh vegetables. Behind her is a 4-H poem about joys of gardening and canning.

Pack and President Wilson asked the American people to farm on any available land they had. In response, Americans planted gardens on front lawns, and in backyards, on porches and balconies. City parks became sprawling farms manned by volunteers from the community. When the war ended, many of the gardens vanished, the men came home and resumed their farming and factory jobs and things pretty much went back to normal.

Victory Gardens World War 2

Like the first world war, the United States stayed out of the fray when the war started. But this all changed after Pearl Harbor. Once again, American men went off to war and once again, Europe was starving due to a lack of manpower and farmland that was occupied. Americans returned to their victory gardening, once again transforming extra space and local parks into gardens. At one point, 41 percent of the vegetation consumed in the US came from a victory garden, and 20 million gardens produced eight tons of food in 1943 alone. Because of these gardens, government resources could be used in the war effort.

Win The Food War With A Victory Garden - Blog

Present Day Victory Gardens

Now I know you’re probably thinking,

“I understand what was the goal of victory gardens then, but why do we need victory gardens now? Technically we aren’t at war with anyone so there’s no war effort to support. What is the point of victory gardens now?”

Short answer: There’s more than one kind of “victory”:

  • Being self-sustaining and less dependent on the government is a victory.
  • Reducing your carbon footprint by growing your own food, thereby decreasing the amount of packaging and plastics you use…Victory.
  • Eating healthy, organic foods that are pesticide free –VICTORY!
  • Being a part of a community that comes together with a shared philosophy to ensure everyone has healthy, safe, nutritious food regardless of their financial situation…MAJOR Victory.

So, if you enjoy gardening and want to start a community garden or share your knowledge with others, find a group of like-minded neighbors and start. You can create a community garden or you can each create smaller victory gardens and help each other take care of them. Then you share the bounty at harvest time. Some communities will allow you to garden in sections of parks or undeveloped property. Call your local city government office and ask if any plots are available.

Whether you’re gardening in planters for rooftops, in your backyard or in canisters on your front porch, you are supporting the ecosystem. By sharing your bounty and teaching others how to grow their own food, you are battling against food insecurity. Hunger is a real issue, but it’s one that can be easily eliminated through gardening. It might not be a literal war effort, but it’s still an issue that must be fought and conquered.

We hope you’ve enjoyed your gardening history lesson for today, check out our collection of outdoor planters and raised garden beds to get started on a victory garden of your own!

You can read more about food insecurity in our article, Let Us Talk About Lettuce

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