Posts tagged ‘wartime gardens’
I’ve been waylaid in the backyard, working on my vegetable garden. Some might say fruit and vegetable…there are tomatoes, tomatillos (thank you, Fox Point), cukes, peppers, and raspberries. Let ‘em say what they will.
A friend gave me a yardsale find: Victory Backyard Gardens: Simple Rules for Growing your own Vegetables (1942) by T.H. Everett and Edgar J. Clissold with an intro by Secretary of Agriculture Claude Wickard. He’s the one who initially told First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt that she shouldn’t plant a victory garden at the White House and later changed his tune.
Sixty-seven years later, the book gives a firsthand glimpse at how gardeners went about their task during World War II. Intensive cultivation was the key. This was the era of shortages. As gas rationing and scrap drives made Americans conserve, so they would make the most of their available land. Succession planting, minimal space between rows, etc.
Another gardener asked me what victory gardens looked like. Here’s a sample plan:This is a lot of food! I admit I had to look up what “catch crop” (a quick growing crop to plant before or after another main crop) and “hot bed” (a cold frame over a hot surface, like manure or a heating element) meant. And though fertilizer is considered a precious resource–see the bugs panel on the left–note the compost pile in one corner of the garden.
Finally, one of the distinctions of WWII victory gardens is that they were considered to be part of America’s Civilian Defense program. I love how the cartoon on the right encourages gardeners to share their surplus. Shouldn’t making sure your neighbor has something to eat make for a more secure community?
It rains so much in Providence nowadays that I spend more time with the newspapers and online and less time in the garden. First the newspaper…
Yesterday, the Providence Journal ran a story on recession gardens. Southside Community Land Trust is expanding the Prairie Street Community Garden to accommodate more plots, and URI Master Gardener Coordinator Roseanne Sherry is hearing from more and more new gardeners this year. And the trend is national, with seed companies reporting record sales in 2009.
The last upsurge in food gardening took place during the economic crises of the 1970s. In Rhode Island, Bristol legislator Gaetano Parella put forth four resolutions to make underused local, state, and federal land available for individual gardens in 1974. Reflecting on the victory gardens of WWII, Parella said there was “no reason why our citizens cannot do the same thing now to fight rising food costs.” A ProJo article from the same year described “Rhode Island’s growing army of backyard farmers.”
Now that you have read this newspaper article (online, perhaps), try googling “recession garden,” “recession gardens,” or “recession gardening.” Expect this term to start competing with victory garden/s/ing.
Speaking of googling, if you enter “Victory Garden,” the first entry to pop up is PBS’s television show. “The Victory Garden” began broadcasting in the mid-1970s; it was America’s first gardening program on tv. The goal was to encourage Americans to fight the recession by growing their own food. By using the name “Victory Garden,” the creators evoked nostalgia for the can-do spirit of wartime gardens. And I suppose that in 1975, nobody wanted to watch a show called “The Recession Garden.”
In 2009, we just might.
Thanks to everyone who stopped by Firehouse 13 last night for Green Zones: From the War Garden to Your Garden and the first-ever Urban Ag Spring Start Party.
The talks and discussion went over really well, and the seed-swapping table was hopping. I got a chance to connect with gardeners, historians, and gardening historians from all over.
A spring party was a great outlet for gardeners with seeds, plants, and stories to share. As RI’s food gardening network continues to grow, imagine another garden event this fall?!?!?!?!
All the vegetables are ready to rumble at Firehouse 13 (41 Central Street, Providence).
Start at 5:30pm with Green Zones: From the War Garden to Your Garden. Check out 3 presentations on past and present gardening movements, and join the discussion.
Then at 7:30pm, it’s the first-ever Urban Ag Spring Start Party. Seed-swapping, plant-swapping, sharing info about garden and green groups, meeting other gardeners, etc. It’s a potluck, so bring a dish…as well as your seeds and plants to share.
Let’s start the spring together!
Hats off to Providence Journal Business editor John Kostrzewa for today’s column on “A seed of hope and easy to plant.” Kostrzewa suggests that in this time of economic crisis, hope is in short supply. While we work on the big-picture, long-term, structural fixes, why not engage in a more immediate way to improve Rhode Island: “Dedicate plots of land throughout the state for community gardens.”
His column puts forward a number of initiatives that may seem groundbreaking, but they all have precedents in Rhode Island’s recent history. For instance:
“How about using some of the highly visible sloping land that runs away from the State House. Or what about the 4.5 acres across the street from the Amtrak station.”
Done: Around 1920-21, the Rhode Island Normal School had a demonstration school garden on its grounds southwest of the State House–where Providence Place Mall stands today (see photo above).
“Make community gardens a statewide project. Make it a competition among each of the cities and towns to design and plant their own plots.”
Done: In 1916, Governor R. Livingston Beeckman initiated an annual garden contest among mill towns. Prizes were awarded for best vegetable garden, garden, and village appearance.
“Pick the sites from available public land.”
Done. In 1908, the city installed school gardens at Roger Williams Park. In 1943, the RI Senate passed a resolution “to formulate and promulgate a plan and program of procedure for the state of Rhode Island victory gardens upon state-owned land.”
“The seeds and plants can be donated.”
Done: In 1908, Congressman Daniel Granger secured donations of seeds for the Roger Williams Park school gardens. In 1932, RI Congressmen arranged for the US Dept. of Agriculture to distribute seeds to RI gardeners.
“Once the gardens have been planted, turn over the maintenance to service organizations, such as the scouts or fraternal groups.”
Done: During World War I, local organizations that participated in the War Garden movement included: RI Horticultural Society, Providence Housewives League, RI Boy Scouts (who guarded the gardens), and the League of Improvement Societies–not to mention dozens of factories and schools.
“And with so many unemployed people, let them work in a garden until they find a job.”
Done: During the Great Depression, state and local governments organized a statewide subsistence garden program of “private backyard gardens, vacant lot gardens, community plots divided into individual gardens, industrial gardens, industrial gardens for part-time workers, and community gardens not divided into individual plots but worked by unemployed men in return for food orders.”
As Kostrzewa notes, we’re on our way, thanks to the work of groups like Southside Community Land Trust and the Children’s Garden Network. I’ll add my two cents: just look to the past to learn how green Rhode Island can be.
Bibliographic note: The photograph of the demonstration garden at the RI Normal School comes from the League of Improvement Societies in RI Year Book for 1920-21. All other historical information derived from articles in the Providence Journal, 1906-1943.
Check out the updated page for Green Zones: From the War Garden to Your Garden, a presentation on Victory Gardens, the Women’s Land Army of America, and how/why gardeners are growing their own food today. The event takes place on Tues., May 5, starting at 5:30pm at Firehouse 13, 41 Central St. in Providence.
A plan is stirring to hold an Urban Agriculture Spring Start Party afterwards. This will include seed/plant swapping, exchanging ideas, food, music, and kicking off the garden season together.
Community gardeners, backyard gardeners, local foodies, green folks, farmers, teachers, kids. . .can you help out with this emerging event? Contact me at szurier at wesleyan dot edu or leave a comment, and I’ll be in touch.
For the past few months I have been spending some quality time at the microfilm readers at the central (don’t make me call it Empire) Providence Public Library. The Rhode Island Collection includes a subject index to the Providence Journal. I am grateful to those generations of librarians who typed out article titles and dates and page numbers on catalog cards.
I have found hundreds of articles about WWI-era war gardens, WWII-era victory gardens, school gardens, community gardens, mill village gardens, and the like. And as I spin the microfilm reels to the next relevant page, it’s hard not to get distracted by all the other news and advertisements of the day.
This ad, run in the classified section on 15 May 1917, was a happy find. In 1917, Rhode Island had a case of gardenmania. In addition to all the organized garden programs–school gardens, Governor’s mill village garden contest, factory gardens, demonstration gardens, community gardens, and vacant lot gardens–individual citizens were planting “pocket-edition” gardens in their own backyards. Vegetable gardening was a statewide movement, or as the ad would have it, “a universal planting crusade.” The more I read about the Progressives’ impact on the urban environment in the 1900s and 1910s, the more I think about how it’s time to renew their goals for healthier cities and citizens today.
Last week, I visited the Providence Public Library’s Special Collections Department. One of the first things librarian Rick Ring showed me was an original WWII-era Victory Garden poster–which was a thrill after looking at countless tiny digital images online. There’s a large collection of materials relating to the two World Wars.
But the best thing Rick found was a book on Gardens of Colony and State: Gardens and Gardeners of the American Republic Before 1840 (edited by Alice G.B. Lockwood, 1931). The Rhode Island chapters are outstanding, although unfootnoted. Aaarrrrgh!
During King Philip’s War (1675-76), some European colonists fled the mainland for Aquidneck (aka Rhode Island). Check out how on this part of John Seller’s “Mapp of New England” (ca. 1675), RI is labeled “PLYMOUTH COLONY,” and Aquidneck Island is labeled “Rode Island.” They found temporary asylum with relatives in Portsmouth. According to the (five) authors of the RI chapters, the settlers farmed every square inch of the island during the war years, pushing aside ornamental or experimental gardens, planting crops, and allowing animals to graze the remainder. Borrowing a term from World War I, the authors concluded “’War gardens’ were imperative.”
To aid refugees and locals alike, the Town of Portsmouth voted to provide 100 acres of the Town Commons; “for those that want relief…and what shall be so lent to them, they shall improve by sowing and planting for the time of two years from the date of this meeting.” In short, the Town of Portsmouth responded to wartime crisis by providing public land for community gardening. When most of Rhode Island’s population were farm families, and all of Rhode Island depended on local food, it was absolutely critical to prioritize food production.
And it’s still a priority, if you ask Michael Pollan. Read his “Farmer In Chief” essay in yesterday’s New York Times Magazine, and we’ll catch up soon.
I stopped by Green Zone this afternoon to discover the aftermath of drunken revelry. The plants had downed a 12-pack of Pabst Blue Ribbon and left the evidence strewn about. I have used PBR in my home garden to drown slugs, but who knew that the plants were sots for it, too?
Thankfully, Firehouse 13 will be serving up Narragansetts at Providence Green Drinks. That’s Thursday, from 5pm to 8pm, people. There will be non-alcoholic alternatives as well. Drinks are for sale; snacks are sponsored by me and my buddy Eva of Glasswing Design. NO PABST WILL BE SERVED.
And so as to avoid ending this post with the word or the taste of Pabst, here’s a little something from the Ladies Aid Society of Arnsville (probably Barnesville), Ohio. researching ladies aid groups and the U.S. Sanitary Commission will get me started on Civil War gardens. In their 1862-63 report, the B/Arnsville ladies called out:
Come then and help us. There is a great call upon everyone to aid in this great work. There is a great call for vegetables. Will you give them? Let every family form themselves into companies and pick and dry fruits. They call for dried fruits rather then canned. See to it that there are pickles prepared to send in abundance and you who have friends or sons in the Army, will you not pick out your longest row of potatoes and cultivate them nicely and when ripe, dig them and send to the Sanitary Commission. Or any other vegetables, you may have, will be acceptable. Bring them on, we will send them for you. Any contributions can be left at Mr. A.B. Glazer’s store so they will go safely and you will have no expense. Will you help us and prove that it is more blessed to give then to receive.!!!
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!”