Victory Gardens

Worm's Eye View of Red Russian Kale.

Worm’s Eye View of Red Russian Kale (acrylic on board).

For the last couple weeks, I’ve been weeding, weeding, and weeding. I’ve weeded the raspberries, black currants, gooseberries, and strawberries. I’ve weeded our baby apple trees and other nursery plants. I’ve weeded my pollinator-friendly flower gardens, my veggie gardens, and the demonstration gardens. And there’s still more to go. On an organic farm, weeding is one of the things that never goes away. But I’m not complaining. It’s very satisfying growing and nurturing my own food. It makes me mindful, connects me with nature, tones up my body and mind, and has changed my relationship with food for the better. It also frees me from the corporate unsustainable food system. Healthy food sovereignty! That’s why I think everyone should do some gardening of their own, whether its berry bushes in the backyard, herbs in a pot, or a full-blown garden and orchard where a lawn used to be.

Canning your own food was another way to help in the war effort.

Canning your own food was another way to help in the war effort.

On the Home Front in 1918, citizens plowed up parks and lawns and vacant lots and put in gardens. They called these War Gardens, but changed the name to Victory Gardens after Armistice. The program was promoted and supported by the War Department in an effort to ensure an adequate food supply during war shortages and boost civilian morale in that they were also contributing to the war effort. They were also contributing to their own healthy living. About 5 million Victory Gardens were created in the U.S. when the population was about 100 million people and at a time when 27% of the labor force were already farming. That’s a lot of people growing food!

During WWII, Victory Gardens became even more important with an estimated 20 million in the U.S. alone, and by 1944, these gardens were producing 40% of the fruits and vegetables consumed in the U.S. Other countries also encouraged citizens and communities to develop Victory Gardens. Even though there were government education and support programs, the great thing about these gardens was, for the most part, they were grass root community and individual citizen efforts.

With over 4,000,000 military personnel mobilized for U.S. military service during WWI and 16,000,000 in WWII, the decline in the supply of agricultural workers was an important reason for promoting individual and community Victory Gardens. It also meant more women and kids ended up working on farms to make up for the lack of men workers. We’ve all heard of the women in the munitions plants and factories during the wars, but it also occurred on farms as well. Children were gardening and raising pigs and livestock for the war effort too. Schools had their own Victory Gardens on roof tops, parking lots, and anywhere they could put them. When it came to putting food on the table, everyone did their share.

That’s why it’s exciting to see a new surge in community garden projects, urban and suburban agriculture, and local ecological-oriented farms as we start the 21st century, almost 100 years after the first Victory Gardens. We don’t need a world war to get us motivated to grow our own food and to create our own local food system. We don’t need government propaganda. We just need to do it! And be grateful that we have a piece of land and the physical body to make it happen.


Forever Victory Gardens is a great site about a group doing urban agriculture in Chicago. They share some of the history of Victory Gardens in Chicago during the world wars.