The original "Victory Gardens" began during World War 1, even before the U.S. entered the war. In 1914 in Europe, the allies had most of their farmers go off to war leaving crops unharvested and rotting in the fields, most of the farm land had become part of the war zone, and it was becoming more and more dangerous to ship food to Europe due to the German submarines. There was virtually no meat available, and dairy products were so limited that a person had to get a doctors note saying that it was necessary to their health to acquire them. Bread was often not available at all.
In the U.S. citizens had to cut their consumption of food as prices rose and as the burden fell on North America to provide food for 120,000,000 people. Meatless and wheatless days were promoted in order to conserve. As a response to this community gardens started to pop up everywhere.
In 1917 Charles Lathrop Pack founded the National War Garden Commission. The Commission campaigned for backyard Victory Gardens with posters, cartoons, press releases, and pamphlets to "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." (Pack 1919). Posters had sayings such as, "Will you have a part in Victory?", "Put the slacker land to work", and "Can the Kaiser". President Woodrow Wilson stated that, "Everyone who creates or cultivates a garden helps..."
The U.S. Department of Agriculture formed a committee on public information to help plant "a million new backyard and vacant lot gardens." These gardens were meant to feed America so that the country would be able to send food abroad to support our European allies, and to save fuel and free up transportation and middleman jobs to help with the war effort.
How well did this effort work? In Dallas Texas in 1918 there were 20,000 gardens producing 17,500 cans of vegetables in only a few weeks. In Marion Indiana where 29,000 people resided there were 14,081 gardens. Nationwide in 1917 there were 3 million garden plots. By 1918 that had increased to 5,285,000 plots with a harvest of 528.5 million pounds of produce for that year.
When put to the test, individual Americans can really produce.
Next stop down garden history lane will be Depression Relief Gardens. Stay tuned.