There’s a new book on the topic of Victory Gardens written by my good friend, scholar Rose Hayden-Smith (aka @victorygrower). Her first book, Sowing the Seeds of Victory: American Garden Programs of World War I, was released this summer. [If you’re interested in purchasing it, you may find Sowing the Seeds via my Amazon Affiliate link here.*] I’ve read it via a review copy and found it to be just as comprehensive and engaging as I thought it would be, given Rose’s encyclopedic knowledge on the topic. If you’re curious about cultural history or gardening (or both), you’ll want to buy it. Now, I’ll turn this post over to Rose.
Like a lot of you, I collect gardening catalogs. To me, they represent life and productivity and the promise of family, good food and good health.
Yet I also study and write about Victory Gardens. Because Victory Gardens, like gardening catalogs, also provide a link to a simpler, agrarian past that I find comforting and restorative in these unsettling times. In a world where food prices are skyrocketing, violence seems unchecked, compassion towards the less fortunate seems to have evaporated and economic misery abounds, I find gardens of all sorts a refuge of optimism. We need fewer bad things in this world and more good gardens.
In hard times, Americans have always turned to gardening. The Victory Gardens of World War I and World War II – and the garden efforts of the Great Depression – helped Americans weather hard times. These school, home and community gardens helped the family budget; improved dietary practices; reduced the food mile and saved fuel. They also enabled America to export more food to our allies; beautified communities; empowered every citizen to contribute to a national effort; and bridged social, ethnic, class and cultural differences during times when cooperation was vital. Gardens were an expression of solidarity, patriotism, and shared sacrifice. They were everywhere…schools, homes, workplaces, and throughout public spaces all over the nation. No effort was too small. Americans did their bit. And it mattered.
We were a nation of Victory Growers, and it had far-ranging implications in many aspects of American social, cultural and political life. And all of these things could be true again today. In many places, Victory Growers are at work, making these things come true.
Consider this: In WWI, the Federal Bureau of Education rolled out a national school garden program and funded it with War Department monies. Millions of students gardened at school, at home, and in their communities. A national Liberty Garden (later “Victory Garden”) program was initiated that called on all Americans to garden for the nation and the world. The success of home gardeners (and careful food preservation) helped the U.S. increase exports to our starving European allies and enabled Americans–immigrant and native born, rich and poor, young and old, rural and urban, all ethnicities – to express support for their nation through the simple act of gardening.
The WWII experience was equally successful. During 1943, some polls reported that 3/5ths of Americans were gardening, including Vice President Henry Wallace, who gardened with his son. That same year, according to some estimates, nearly 40% of the fresh fruits and vegetables consumed stateside were grown in school, home and community gardens. In addition to providing much-needed food, gardening helped Americans unite around a positive activity. Gardens gave all Americans a way to provide service to the nation, enabling citizens on the home front to make significant contributions to the war effort. Our nation again finds itself in challenging times. School, home and community gardens – modern Victory Gardens – provide a way to respond positively to this period of uncertainty and change.
If you’d like to read more about these historical models – and how they could inform today’s food policy – pick up my book, Sowing the Seeds of Victory: American Gardening Programs of World War I *, published by McFarland. It shares information about the history of Victory and Liberty Gardens, how the idea is making a comeback today, and why I think we need to be even more radical and intentional in encouraging school, home and community garden efforts. Call me a wild-eyed radical. Call me a wide-eyed optimist. But please . . . call me a Victory Grower.
And please visit my blog at www.rosehayden-smith.com for lots of free information in my blogs about things that will interest you and your family. If you’re a home school family, there are great history lessons there. There is also practical advice. And sometimes, just my musings. And more to come.
In the meantime, plant a garden. Eat more fruits and vegetables. Read up on World War I. Locate your nearest school and community garden. Read up on the food system. Eat good food. Visit a farm. Learn more about agriculture. Practice sustainability. Find your nearest urban agriculture operation. Buy local food, and savor it. Learn more about nutrition. Consider my assertion that food security equals national security. Visit the USDA website (you’ll thank me later). And order a copy of my book. I’ll sign it for you. If you live really far away, I’ll sign a bookplate and mail it to you.
Until next time, remember: “A Garden for Everyone. Everyone in a Garden.”
Sow the Seeds of Victory! Artist: James Montgomery Flagg (1877-1960). National War Garden Commission, Washington, D.C. (1918). One of the most famous artists of the era, Flagg produced this compelling image of Columbia encouraging Americans to garden. Image: the Museum of Ventura County. Photographer: Aysen Tan.
Note that you’ll find an entire chapter on World War I posters, propaganda and memory in Rose’s book. The book contains 23 images, and there are additional ones on her website. Enjoy!
* When you purchase the book via this link, I receive a modest compensation through my participation in the Amazon Affiliate program.