Victory Gardens

When the simple act of gardening was a statement of patriotism as well as a way to put food on the table. 

When war rations reigned, gardening was a behind the scene force during both wars. In World War I, they were known as War Gardens. In WWII, when they were dubbed Victory Gardens. Artists from across the country were commissioned to inspire the masses to garden. It worked, because these gardens were prolific. In 1918, 5 million gardens were planted. In 1946 before the war ended, Victory Gardens grew 40% of the nation’s domestic food supply. And the art that inspired it is every bit as stunning, fun and proud now as it was back then.

    During World War I & 11, every patriotic U.S. citizen, from a socialite who torn up her polo field and grew vegetables to children who were given the rank ‘soldiers of soil’—put their green thumbs to work and gave their homeland a helping hand with vegetables and fruit.

    These tiny patches of productivity were more than just patriotic support—they increased domestic food supply and saved fuel for munitions factories and war-related railroad transit. Extras were diverted to troops and allies across the sea.

    Slogans for the effort included “Can fruit, vegetables and the Kaiser, too.” Unused land was called slacker land and pesky garden insects were dubbed ‘the Kaiser’s allies’ and sauerkraut was renamed ‘liberty cabbage’. The bottom line effect was that home canning and preserving saw dramatic increases.

    During World War II, the gardens were renamed Victory Gardens, and the campaign to popularize them united government and corporations. ‘Working the soil’ was promoted in rural and urban areas and emphasized the finer facets of gardening—making it a family and community effort. Not drudgery, but rather a national pastime and a national duty.

    Posters showed maidens in red, white and blue garb spreading seeds across a field, the slogan “Our Food is Fighting” became a rally cry in backyards and neighborhoods.

    Maridonna Norick remembers her mother’s Victory Garden in their downtown Kalispell backyard, “Mom had lots of tomatoes, green peas and lettuce, even flowers. She put a lot of hours into that garden—to help the war effort.”

Norick’s mother, Gladys Fisher, used to can the garden product and store it in the root cellar, then send a scared Maridonna down into the dark room to retrieve cans.

   “I didn’t always find what I was sent for,” Norick conceded, recalling the spiders.

   The Victory Garden campaign came to a close in early 1946. By that time 20 million gardens produced 40% of the fruit and vegetables for the United States. The gardens had become such a staple in the economy, food shortages swept the nation the summer of ’46, following the official end of the government gardens that same winter.

  A victory for America for gardening. Viva la garden hoe!

copyright, Power of the Pen, 2016