Posts tagged ‘World War II’

Book report: Victory Backyard Gardens (1942)

1942vbg_coverI’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:1942vbg_planThis 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.

1942vbg_2don'tsFinally, 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?

July 21, 2009 at 10:37 pm Leave a comment

Back to the 1970s: Recession gardens

090614crockettIt 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.

June 14, 2009 at 8:52 am 1 comment

Hope gardens: it’s time (again)

1920-21statehousegardenHats 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.

April 12, 2009 at 2:21 pm 1 comment

Green Zones Event…and Urban Ag Spring Start?

wargardensvictorious-wright1Check 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.

April 3, 2009 at 7:17 am 2 comments

Kingston squares

1944-45-kingston1In 1943-45 (at least), a bunch of Kingston neighbors organized a victory garden with the help of a local RI State College (now University of Rhode Island) professor and several local property owners.

The group collaborated on the purchase of fertilizer, seeds, and rototilling. Each family could sign up for 4000- or 2000-square foot plots.

The same pattern of neighbors organizing community garden spaces together was repeated throughout Rhode Island and throughout the country. What was unique about the Kingston Victory Gardens was that the neighbors gardened side-by-side with professors from the the RI State College Extension Service. What the professors learned from their experience on the ground in Kingston, they could share with gardeners throughout the state through the outreach of the Extension Service. This program continues today as URI Cooperative Extension.

You can find correspondence, plot plans, gardener rosters, and other materials relating to the Kingston Victory Gardens at the Pettaquamscutt Historical Society in Kingston Village.

March 24, 2009 at 9:33 pm 1 comment

Spinach Victory Garden!

Popeye is one of my cartoon heroes. For starters, we both love our spinach, and we’re fond of Olive Oyl.  Though this Popeye short–“RATION fer the DURATION” (1943)–is kinda fuzzy and kinda long, it’s a hoot. From the opening pan over the “Spinach Victory Garden” to the crops of POTatoes, CANtaloupes, and the rest, you will enjoy. Go ahead and watch!

November 22, 2008 at 4:45 pm 1 comment

Another ‘toon: Private Snafu in The Home Front

Private Snafu cartoons aren’t nearly as endearing as Barney Bear, but they have an interesting backstory.

A bunch of all-stars helped to create Private Snafu: director Frank Capra (“It’s a Wonderful Life,” etc), Theodor (Dr. Seuss) Geisel,  Looney Tunes director Chuck Jones, Bugs Bunny voiceman Mel Blanc, and many more.  With each storyboard approved by the War Department, Warner Brothers rolled out a series of Snafu shorts during World War II.

In “The Home Front” (1943, directed by Frank Tashlin), the Technical Fairy-First Class shows Snafu that while he paces around his Quonset Hut on an army base, his family and his gal are supporting the war effort. Pa fabricates tanks, grandpa builds warships, and Sally Lou joins the Women’s Army Corps (WACs). Best of all, dear ole’ Ma plows up the yard, enlists the family cat to sow seeds, and teaches the family horse to spread manure. She has grown a superb Victory Garden, but the cat takes all the credit…

August 20, 2008 at 12:52 pm 1 comment


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