During World War I and II gardening became a patriotic and fulfilling activity for all Americans, both from the United States and Canada. The First World War, also known as the Great War, was the largest war the world had ever known. It was the first time in history that more countries were at war with each other than were at peace. Canada joined the war with the Allied forces when it began in the summer of 1914, following the assassination of the heir the Austro-Hungarian throne (Wikipedia, WWI). The US stayed neutral for three years, only joining the fray when a German submarine attacked and sank the luxury ocean liner, the Lusitania in Spring of 1917(Wikipedia US History).
Throughout the war, Europe had serious problems getting producing enough food. All the farmers in Europe had gone off to war during the summer of 1914, leaving their crops ripening in the fields, some never to be harvested. Since that time, much of the land in Europe had fallen into the war zone, making it impossible to farm and the possibility of shipping in food to Europe was threatened by the German’s aggressive use of submarines to sink any ship. The burden fell to North America to provide food for the 120.000.000 people in the countries of the Allied Forces.
Allied forces provision trucks line a roadway in France, 1915.
(Image courtesy of Library of Congress Digital Photograhy Collection)
In Europe, food production was at an all time low. There was no meat to be found and, in England, dairy products were so restricted that a doctor needed to certify that it was necessary for the recipeints health. In some cities, bread was in such shortage that, many days, it was not available.
Women in France plouging hardcore, 1917.
(Image courtesy of U.S. National Archives and Records Administration)
The US, though it had not yet joined the war, had to cut consumption greatly as well. Prices increased for foods such as butter, eggs, and coffee. There were meatless and wheatless days to try to cut consumption of highly valued food products. As a response to the cuts in consumption, community gardens began to spring up everywhere. In the early months of 1917, as it became clear that an increase in production was the only answer, Charles Lathrop Pack founded the National War Garden Commission. Through a campaign of posters, cartoons, press releases, and pamphlets the commission strove “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: 10). Their posters boasted phrases such as, “Will you have a part in victory?,” “Every war garden a peace plant,” “Can the Kaiser,” “Sow the Seeds of Victory,” and “Put the slacker land to work.”
A Poster distributed by the National War Garden Commission
From The War Garden Victorious by Charles Lathrop Pack
And America responded. President Wilson “called for ever American to contribute in the war to establish democracy and human rights.” In a proclamation, President Woodrow Wilson said to Americans, “Everyone who creates or cultivates a garden helps…This is the time for America to correct her unpardonable fault of wastefulness and extravagance.” (Krochmal, Connie) The US Department of Agriculture formed a committee on pubic information to help plant “a million new backyard and vacant lot gardens.” (Tucker 1993: 124) It was thought that victory gardens would not only feed America so that we could send food abroad, but also that we could save on fuel and free transportation and middleman jobs to help with the war effort.
War garden on Boston Commons, 1918.
Image Courtesy of The War Garden Victorious by Charles Lathrop Pack
Here’s an idea of the scale of the war gardening effort- In Dallas in 1918 there were 20,000 gardens that produced over 17,500 cans of vegetables in just a few weeks. The Town of Marian, Indiana had just 29,000 people and 14,081 gardens- that means that almost ever other person in Marian had a garden. National-wide there were 3 million garden plots in 1917, according to the National War Garden Commission. In 1918, that number increased to 5,285,000 plots. Due to rising education level of gardeners, these 1918 plots were cultivated more intensely. Over 528.5 million pounds of produce has harvested that year (Pack 1919).It was here that the idea of the “city farmer” was born.
When the war ended in 1919, the war garden effort dropped off, but many people kept their gardens and would use them again in the victory garden movement of the second World War.
Click any of the links to find out about more urban gardening in US history
Below is an assortment of war garden propaganda from both the National War Garden Commission and the US Department of Agriculture published between 1917 and 1919. They advertise anything in the name of reduced consumption and increased local production of vegetables: free bulletins about gardening, opportunities to garden through schools and various other programs, and promote food saving methods such as canning.
Below are some examples of war gardens in America during World War I. In the background of many you can see the buildings of cities.
A Liberty Garden, approximately one block square, Polk St., Chicago.
Some companies started their own war gardens such as this first year garden started by the Eastman Kodak Company in Rochester, New York
The Women of Gates Rubber Company tend to a war garden plot, 1914.
Typical City Garden in Rochester, New York. One of 15,000 in 1918.
Xavia garden on East Sixty-third street in Cleveland, OH.
East Liberty, Ohio.
To find out more about victory gardens in World War I here are some references in links below:
Bassett, Thomas J. “Reaping on the Margins: A Century of Community Gardening in
America.” Landscape, 1981 v25 n2. 1-8.
Goldstein, Libby J. “Philadelphia’s Community Garden History.” City Farmer, 1997.
Very brief history of Philly’s community gardens in the last century.
Krochmal, Connie. 2005. The Role of War Gardens.
Great article about war gardens…
Pack, Charles Lathrop. 1919. The War Garden Victorious.
Online ebook first published in 1919 by the founder of the National War Garden Commission. Really interesting, though certainly opinionated and contains very floral and patriot language. And lots of good pictures
Tucker, David M. Kitchen Gardening in America: A History. Ames, Iowa: Iowa State
University Press, 1993.
Warner, Sam Bass, Jr. To Dwell is to Garden: A History of Boston’s Community
Gardens. Boston: Northeastern University Press, 1987.
Williamson, Erin A. A Deeper Ecology: Community Gardens in the Urban Environment. U Delaware.
Really great paper found of the City Farmer website, it has great background and history and insite into the need for and role of community gardens in North America.
Urban Agriculture photos.
some good random photos of urban agriculture all ove rthe world and throughout history… no other details sorry.
School children gardening 1912-1918.
lots of cute little kids gardening in quaint clothing.
Garden Warriors of Yesteryear.
WWI and WWI victory garden pictures
Wikipedia. Victory Gardens.
Hardly anything on Victory Gardens from World War I.