In urban areas across the country vacant lots are filled with sights of neighbors pulling weeds, planting seeds and tending heirloom tomatoes.
Overnight city rooftops have sprouted lush gardens. “Tarbeachs” once reserved for city sunning, now produces organic vegetables for hipsters at high-end restaurants.
But, long before the locavore movement heated up this growth in urban gardening, there were “victory gardens”, the granddaddy of community gardening.
WWII Home Front Gardens
By 1942 at the urging of Uncle Sam, my mother’s family, like 20 million others Americans during WWII, had planted a Victory garden
As in WWI, the federal government encouraged citizens to plant victory gardens to provide themselves and their neighbors with vegetables so that commercially produced crops could be available for military use.
With millions of farming acres abroad war-torn and barren, the world’s food supply was dangerously low and that included Americans. Farmers were working overtime to produce enough food
We were asked to pitch in.
Now out of duty and not pleasure, we were required to reacquaint ourselves with cooking and eating fresh, locally grown produce.
Besides which, we were told, working in a garden “is a wonderful sedative for ‘war nerves’”
Food Fights for Freedom
Thousands of government sponsored advertisements convinced the public that food was a weapon of strategic importance. If folks on the home front used food wisely it would “fight for freedom,” and as one ad explained :
“It won’t just happen that there will be enough food. America has go to work at it. Food is fighting today for freedom on many fronts here at home too. If you enlist in the fight you’ll help speed the day of victory.
“We know you will do anything you can to help.”
During the war my teen age mother Betty and her family lived in a house on Montgomery Street in Brooklyn, NY and despite their postage stamp size yard, they were delighted to find that more than a tree could grow in Brooklyn;
They were not alone
All over the city vacant lots were commandeered for the war effort and made into vegetable patches joining the millions of small town backyards and city rooftop gardens sprouting up across the country.
Some neighborhoods groups selected a vacant lot for growing, taking turns working the garden and forming food cooperatives
With no experience in gardening, other than the petunia stocked window boxes, my grandmother perused the local library.
Countless books on wartime gardening were suddenly available with titles like Gardening for Victory, Food Garden for Defense, Grow Your own Food to Feed your family.
Like most Americans more familiar with canned corn and peas, Betty became accustomed to new strange vegetables like Swiss chard and kohlrabi introduced because of the seed shortages.
“Win the War with Spade and Hoe Make a Victory Garden Grow!”
Uncle Sam exchanged his top hat for a farmers and was busy churning out gardening information.
Victory garden instruction booklets explained everything from equipment fertilizers, to how to work the soil. A healthy Victory garden according to the pamphlets should be on the constant lookout for that most deadly enemy the Japanese beetle to be sprayed with a particular vengeance.
Hollywood Goes Gardening
Despite her mother’s nudging, my preoccupied teenage mother was a less than enthused farmer
While my grandmother was busy reading Better Homes and Garden, bobby-soxer Betty kept her nose buried in the glossy movie magazines which constantly chronicled Hollywood’s war efforts.
Photoplay magazine reported that Miss Joan Crawford worked in her own backyard garden and favored hearty vegetables like beets and cauliflower carrots and squash and had a special section devoted to a variety of red yellow and white tomatoes
Betty read with delight “that special guests invited to Miss Crawford’s home served what she called her “Mildred Pierce Victory salad with all ingredients grown in her own garden.
If Betty’s s favorite movie star, glamourpuss Joan Crawford could work hard in her own victory garden getting her well manicured nails grubby, by gosh there was no reason for Betty to be a slacker.
Madison Avenue Gets Their Hands Dirty
Advertisers jumped on the bandwagon promoting and encouraging patriotic Americans to plant victory gardens spurring people to harvest and share in the bounty.
Advertisers’ anxious to prove that they were contributing to the war effort
Shamelessly tied in their product to gardening in whatever way they could regardless of the product they were hawking.
Carnation Milk Ad 1943
Schenley Royal Reserve Whiskey 1943 Ad Greens Committee
“There’s more gardening these days and less golf”
Schenley Royal Reserve Whiskey 1943 Ad harvest Time
Americans make the best of everything. Americans are making the best use of their weekends and vacations by helping to bring in the crops. All Schenley distilleries are producing vital alcohol for war purposes so we were reminded to save it for special occasions.
Coke Hospitality in a Victory Garden 1943 Ad
“There is a Victory garden in almost every backyard this summer. Friends in work clothes come over to admire and compare crops. Then when a few moments of relaxation are in order they drink Ice Cold Coke and enjoy perfect refreshment while contemplating the results of their work.”
Jayson Sportswear Advertisement 1944
National Dairy Ad Products 1944 “The earth and I are friends now“
Copyright (©) 2012 Sally Edelstein All Rights Reserved
- ‘American Grown,’ Michelle Obama: review (sfgate.com)