By all accounts, WWII showed how far or low humanity can go if its efforts are committed to a single cause and it is made to believe in the inevitability of salvation. However, while the Second World War is undoubtedly referred to as the darkest hour of man, a few shining examples of human perseverance and courage can be observed that are worthy of remembrance. One such example is the victory gardens of WWII.
Formerly known as ‘The War Garden Movement’ in The Great War, the victory gardens of WWII were a nationwide effort where backyards, public parks, and any open space which was not essential for public use was converted into makeshift farms. Here, citizens pooled together resources to grow food in an effort to help prevent food shortage and to reduce pressure on food supply channels in order keep food prices down, increase production, and provide direct aid to soldiers fighting across the Atlantic.
Although the concept of victory gardens wasn’t new, it did not gain mass acceptance till March of 1943 when the government decided to start rationing canned fruits and vegetables. Canned food could easily be transported overseas and their reduced supply to the public helped control the wastage of a precious material – tin. More than anything, it gave the public a cause to rally around and inspired real action backed by sheer patriotism. The result? Nearly 20 million Americans participated in some capacity to start and maintain victory gardens around the country. At its peak, more than one-third of all vegetables produced in the United States came from victory gardens, and it is estimated that roughly 9 – 10 million tons of vegetables were grown throughout the span of the war.
Another reason why victory gardens became more of a necessity was the extreme shortage of food faced by European allies. As societies collapsed and countries were invaded, governments across conflict zones were dangerously crippled or seized to operate altogether. Everyone from businessmen to farmers enlisted to fight the axis powers, and crop farms that were once full of life were turned into horrific battlegrounds where only dust and ash remained – thereby creating a vacuum in food supply with no immediate resolution or relief in sight.
The United States felt responsible for feeding innocent people caught in the middle of a war, not of their making. Hence, a coordinated propaganda began which aimed to encourage and educate Americans on how to create and maintain victory gardens in their backyards. The government urged people to exploit any available arable land that was easily accessible, including company gardens, public parks, vacant lots, and even rooftops.
Since the typical city folk weren’t well versed in the nuances and techniques of properly growing their own food supply, government sponsored pamphlets were distributed throughout the city. These pamphlets provided planting schedules and easy guidelines that amateur farmers with little previous experience could understand and implement. The Department of Agriculture and the War Production Board went as far as creating a special Victory Garden fertilizer to sell to these new American farmers.
‘Saturday Evening Post’ and ‘Life’ magazines similarly started educating the public regarding the proper methods and advantages of growing and preserving their own food supply. Through word of mouth and women’s clubs, stories about victory gardens became the new trend, which in turn greatly supported the movement. For example, in 1943 American families bought more than 315,000 pressure cookers compared to just 66,000 in the previous year. Though the trend of victory gardens declined considerably after the end of the war, some people continued to farm their own supply and opted to remain on the side of self-sufficiency.