Victory Gardens in WWII


vintage illustration 1940s Elsie Cow Victory garden

Elsie and Elmer in their WWII Victory Garden 1943

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

vintage art & advertising illustration garden 1940s

 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

WWII Victory garden Texaco

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.”

WWII Victory Garden illustration bushel basket and whiskey

Gardening along with a glass of whiskey was bound to help those wartime jitters. Vintage ad Paul Jones Whiskey 1944

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,” 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.”

American Grown

Vintage illustration victory garden at home ww2

Front lawns turned into victory gardens

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.

WWII Victory Garden poster

WWII Victory Garden decal to affix on your home window

With no experience in gardening, other than the petunia stocked window boxes, my grandmother perused  the local library for advice.

Countless books on wartime gardening were suddenly available with titles like Gardening for Victory, Food Garden for Defense, and  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!”


Vintage ad illustration family gardening ww2

 Uncle Sam exchanged his top hat for a farmers and was busy churning out gardening information.

Government 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.

The Jolly Green Giant Lends a Hand


WWII Green Giant ad victory garden tips

The Green Giant offered gardening tips to patriotic Americans starting their own Victory garden in this 1944 advertisement. “”Come on everybody. Lets do it again. Last year we asked all you home gardeners to compete with us growing peas and corn because- because your country needed that extra food. Your letters warmed our hearts.”

In the great American spirit of competition, the Jolly Green Giant volunteered his formidable green thumb, instructing novice gardeners how to grow their own peas and corn.

Ever the patriot, he shared his secrets to one and all through ads and free booklets chock full of information of when to plant, types of seed and how to prepare the soil for your victory garden. Bursting with pride at the success, the Green Giant wished us all the best of luck” to the finest competition any company ever had!”

Ho-Ho Ho Tojo!


Hollywood Goes Gardening

Vintage magazine illustration home and flag ww2

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.

vintage art & advertising ww2 mother and child garden

Carnation Milk Ad 1943

vintage art & advertising ww2 men golfing

Schenley Royal Reserve Whiskey 1943 Ad -Greens Committee

“There’s more  gardening  these days and less golf”

vintage illustration men picking apples 1940s

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.”

vintage illustration victory garden 1940s

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.”

vintage illustration man and woman gardening ww2

Jayson Sportswear Advertisement  1944

vintage illustration 1940s family gardening

National Dairy Ad Products 1944 “The earth and I are friends now

 © Sally Edelstein and Envisioning The American Dream, 2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Sally Edelstein and Envisioning The American Dream with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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