Gardens on the homefront: WWI’s war gardens

July 20, 2008 at 10:05 pm Leave a comment

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.

Reference: Charles Lathrop Pack, The War Garden Victorious (1919).

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Entry filed under: Charles Lathrop Pack, community gardens, food, gardens, Providence, War Gardens, wartime gardens. Tags: , , , , , , .

Hi neighbor! -or- Companion planting gardening on the homefront: Women’s Land Army of America

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