Posts tagged ‘Charles Lathrop Pack’
Yesterday, I was catching up on some research at the Rhode Island Historical Society Library, which holds 43 linear feet of collections relating to the Brown & Sharpe Manufacturing Company. I’ve mentioned Brown & Sharpe in previous posts, because National War Garden Commission founder Charles Lathrop Pack singled out this Rhode Island firm for sponsoring War Gardens in 1917.
I focused on a dozen of the 43 linear feet: materials related to Luther D. Burlingame and wartime activity. Burlingame worked for Brown & Sharpe as engineer, and he was active in Rhode Island’s environmental movement in the early 20th century. He not only coordinated the firm’s War Gardens during World War I, but he also launched the state’s subsistence garden program in 1932.
In the last section of the last scrapbook in the last box I had requested, I found several items related to Brown & Sharpe’s activities during WWI. The prize was an 1918 article by Burlingame on “Shop Gardening as a War Measure: How Factory Employees Can Help Increase the Food Supply.” Glancing at the sample list of employees who tended garden plots, I saw a familiar name:
That’s my grandfather, Louis Zurier, who worked–and gardened–at Brown & Sharpe in the war years! I was stunned to encounter him on the pages of a magazine article, in a scrapbook, in a box, at a library. There he was, with 14 bushels of potatoes worth $24.80 in 1917. Good growing, grandpa!
As America entered World War I, women and children enlisted in garden armies, gardeners went to battle against insect pests, and every effort was made to ensure that “our food is fighting.” But as if all that wasn’t enough, American land also was compelled to go to war.
The National War Garden Commission targeted empty city lots and sent out battalions of pitchfork-waving civilians…to use their pitchforks and garden. America could not afford to have any land slacking off during wartime. Gives a whole new meaning to the idea of fighting to protect American soil.
The “slacker land” was put to work as sites for community gardens. The benefits of community War Gardens included sharing expertise, soil preparation activities, plants, and equipment. And there were the social benefits: friendly rivalry, community building, etc. In The War Garden Victorious (1919), Charles Lathrop Pack promoted community gardens as community assets that increased real estate values, freed up funds that would have been spent on food, and beautified the city. He urged local governments, chambers of commerce, and other civic organizations to retain the gardens as a post-war economic development program.
Contemporary proponents of urban agriculture use many of the same arguments today. See “Urban Agriculture in Providence,” a publication of the Urban Agriculture Policy Task Force initiated by Southside Community Land Trust/Citywide Green. There are hundreds, if not thousands, of vacant lots in Providence. Join a community garden, and “put that slacker land to work!”
A sister project of the Women’s Land Army of America was the United States School Garden Army (USSGA). This program was created by the federal Bureau of Education in early 1917. According to Charles Lathrop Pack, the army tended two fronts: 1) increasing food production and 2) agricultural education. The longterm goal was to grow “future citizens trained to intelligent application of the principles of thrift, industry, service, patriotism and responsibility.”
The US School Garden Army distributed gardening textbooks to American schools. Principals, teachers, and parents assisted students with creating and tending school gardens and home gardens. Historian Rose Hayden-Smith notes that the USSGA represented a groundbreaking effort to make agricultural education universal and nationwide. The program daringly (listen up, today’s educators!) targeted urban and suburban students, not just children in rural farm communities. The program was very appealing to Progressive reformers who viewed wholesome outdoor activities as an antidote to the unhealthy and unsavory urban environment.
The illustrations for School Garden Army publications are terrific. Artist Maginel Wright Enright (sister of Frank Lloyd Wright) designed a poster which became the symbol of the program. Pied Piper Uncle Sam leads a brigade of children brandishing garden tools as their weapons.
In just 18 months, the United States School Garden Army spent $250,000 to provide more than 50,000 teachers with the curriculum to educate several million children. Although the Board of Education disbanded the USSGA once the war was over, the United States Department of Agriculture continued some of the educational programs it had developed for rural youth during WWI. Efforts like the Cooperative Extension System and 4-H still thrive today.
There is so much to say about wartime gardening on the homefront. Occasional “Gardens on the homefront” posts will focus on American gardens created during World War I and World War II.
In early 1917, forester/conservationist Charles Lathrop Pack began to promote the “war garden” movement. He witnessed devastating food shortages in Europe and the decline of American agricultural production as farmers left their fields to work in the factories of a rapidly urbanizing nation. Pack sought to support the war effort by increasing the American food supply on land not yet cultivated by people not already working in agriculture.
The National War Garden Commission (NWGC) was established in March 1917–a month before the United States entered the War. The Commission launched a public relations campaign that released an onslaught of posters, cookbooks, manuals, poems, and signs throughout the U.S. and all over the world. State and local governments created new policies to grow food on empty and publicly-owned lots, to educate new gardeners, and to provide supplies. The American media joined the campaign by publishing gardening instructions, feature stories, and editorials.
War Gardens sprang up everywhere. Demonstration gardens at Bryant Park in NYC and at Camp Dix, NJ showed civilians and soldiers alike how this homegrown movement would support the war effort. Individual gardeners raised crops in their backyards, as community gardeners transformed “slacker lands” into mini-farms. The Women’s Land Army of America and the United States School Garden Army enlisted millions of “soldiers of the soil.”
Private companies set aside land for employees to farm. In addition to manufacturing precision tools, workers at Brown & Sharpe tended 500 gardens on 30 acres in the city of Providence in 1917. They harvested “4000 bushels of potatoes, 254 bushels of beans, 223 bushels of tomatoes, five and a half tons of turnips, more than two tons of carrots, three tons of cabbage, and nearly a ton of parsnips, besides a large quantity of other vegetables.” In Providence!
The National War Garden Commission counted 3,500,000 war gardens producing $350 million worth of food in 1917, and 5,285,000 war gardens producing $525 million worth of food in 1918. Together, American gardeners and American vegetables helped America go “over the top” in the war garden.