The Great Depression 1929 to 1939:
The stock market crashed, jobs were lost and people were hungry. Once again municipalities turn to gardens to lessen the burden on the American public. Relief gardening programs were put in place to combat hunger, poverty and emotional stress. These gardens were known as welfare gardens, vacant lot gardens, subsistence gardens and depression relief gardens. It was believed that these gardens would improve health and spirit, create feelings of usefulness, productivity, importance and provide opportunities for food and work.
There were three phases to depression era relief gardens. In the beginning the program was hindered by disagreements on the size and placement of the gardens, who would be involved in creating them, uncertainty on the length of the depression and the fact that these gardens would no longer be grown for the sick and disabled, but for healthy people unable to find work. Most support for these gardens came from the citizens themselves in the beginning.
In 1933 these issues were resolved for a couple of reasons. First non government organizations such as The Family Welfare Society and Employee Relief Commission formed garden committees to combat hunger. People with land were encouraged to cultivate and seeds and supplies were provided. Many farmers disliked this program because they felt that by growing more produce in these relief gardens caused overproduction which in turn maintained the depression. Second, President Franklin D. Roosevelt became president and started the "New Deal". Over the next three years the Federal Emergency Relief Administration (FERA) gave over $3 billion of aid to work garden programs. Gardeners received wages for cultivating and distributing to those in need. This program lasted until 1935.
How well did these programs work? In New York City a gardening campaing led by the Welfare Department and the Works Progress Administration (WPA) created over 5000 gardens in vacant lots producing $5 worth of vegetables for every $1 invested which came to $2.8 million of food produced by 1934.
In 1935 government funding ended and the third phase began. The gardens were no longer viewed as opportunities for success and improvement. The attitude of the public began to change to viewing the gardens as a tool for poverty and laziness, and that they were best geared towards the disabled and sick. The connotation went from "relief" gardens to the pitiful impression of them becoming "welfare" gardens.
But by 1939 another war was brewing in Europe and these connotations would be looking to change soon. Next up, World War II Victory Gardens.