Victory Gardens are in our national DNA. Beginning with World War I, Americans planted fruit, vegetable, and herb gardens to help feed their desire to contribute to the war efforts and offset economic food crises. We now face another type of war and its economic impact – the COVID-19 pandemic.
During World Wars I and II, the federal government encouraged people to plant a Victory Garden. The campaigns successfully served to boost morale, safeguard against food shortages, and ease the burden on commercial farmers working to feed troops overseas. The government also developed programs to teach children to plant food gardens to help them feel they were contributing to the war effort. As a show of national support, First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt also planted a Victory Garden on the White House front lawn! By 1944, 40% of fresh fruits and vegetables consumed in the U.S. came from Victory Gardens.
Gardens make a comeback during economic struggles
Although Victory Gardens waned after each of the wars, individual food gardens continued during economic struggles and food shortages. During The Great Depression, millions of people were out of work and people gardened to survive. During the tough economic times of the 1970s, gardening once again became a source of food. People in the cities searched for places to garden and reclaimed vacant lots and developed community food gardens.
In recent years, a renaissance has sprouted to encourage people to “eat local” and eat produce in season to improve health. Personal and community gardens are popular and even local landscape gardens garner thousands of visitors each year (e.g., Compton Gardens, Historic Arkansas Museum garden, Little Rock Zoo Butterfly Garden, Garven Woodland Gardens, etc.).
Once again, we are planting and maintaining our own version of a Victory Garden with renewed creativity. It’s what we do during crises. We are not only growing food staples as in generations past but flowers, herbs and shrubs are making us all feel good.
How to plant a Victory Garden
If you have visions of planting your own Victory Garden, here are some great tips from The Old Farmers’ Almanac to get you started.
- Pick the right location: ideally sunny with moist, well-drained soil
- Keep it close to home: it will make it more convenient to tend your plot and run out and pick what your need for a meal
- Choose your vegetables and review their planting dates: fall and winter gardens generally include beets, broccoli, cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, lettuce, parsley, radish, spinach and turnips
- Be sure water is readily available
- Keep the weeds out