What is a victory garden? In this post we’ll go over the deep history of victory gardens and go into why you should grow your own!
In the United States, we have a long history of victory gardens.
However they were also popular in the UK, Canada, Australia and Germany.
These gardens were started during World War 1 and World War II as citizens planted their own gardens to supplement food shortages and save money.
Victory Gardens came back into popularity in the 1970s and 1980s when oil prices skyrocketed and people wanted to be more self-sufficient.
Today, victory gardening is an important step towards sustainability for our future generations.
What is a Victory Garden?
Victory Gardens (or War Gardens) were created and encouraged during WWI and WWII to reduce the demand on food supplies.
Back in the late 1800s and early 1900s most people lived on self-sustaining farms called subsistence farming.
While grocery stores existed they were more for staples you couldn’t grow yourself – flour, sugar, salt, etc.
The first super-market didn’t come onto the scene, however, until 1930’s however they were few and far between.
In fact, the majority of the population still lived in rural areas prior to 1930s. (Check out this cool graph on how and when the US population moved to the cities).
So prior to the 1930’s and 1940’s most people grew their own fruits, vegetables and meat, however when war struck, the United States government began calling these backyard gardens “victory gardens.”
In 1917, the United States created the National War Garden Commission to encourage citizens to grow, can, and preserve their own crops.
Civilians were encouraged to plant their own vegetable gardens, expand existing gardens or set up community gardens in public land and empty lots.
What Did We Have Victory Gardens?
Victory gardens came about due to a number of different circumstances.
Across the United States and Europe, young men who had been farming before the wars were recruited into battle and left commercial farms struggling to keep up with demand.
In addition to the lack of farm workers, the United States had 16 million men and women fighting overseas over the course of WWII, so food had to be grown, canned, and shipped overseas to support them.
An army marches on it’s stomach.
In addition to feeding our troops, the U.S. government also offered aid in the form of food to the people of Europe whose own farms had been destroyed in the wars.
This meant that all commercial crops were canned and sent overseas, which created food shortages for civilians in the United States.
To help supply tons of food overseas, each American family was issued a ratio book that rationed staples such as sugar, meat, cooking oil and canned foods.
This ensured supplies were issued fairly, however if you wanted to eat more, you had to grow it yourself.
The Victory Garden Movement
The US department of agriculture, state colleges, and local communities all joined together to encourage regular Americans to grow all their own crops instead.
Growing good gardens was encouraged as a patriotic war effort for the home front.
Men and women who couldn’t fight with military service were encouraged to “fight the war at home” and grow victory gardens, as well as can and preserve their produce.
In WWII, 20 million Americans planted Victory Gardens, and produced 40% of all the country’s food supply.
I remember reading the insert of an old home canning book and it began with such quotes as:
Food is as important as powder.
Every can of food put up by the American housewife increases our chances of victory.
Every one should offer life or labor for the defense of his country.
Victory depends upon home forces as much as upon field forces.
Battalions of men must engage the foe and battalions of women must engage the harvest when it arrives.
Every can of food you put up is a noble contribution to the cause of liberty.
The message was that every vegetable grown a private residences, carefully harvested and put up by the family was helping the US win the war.
Even Eleanor Roosevelt planted a victory garden in the front lawn of the White House.
A group called the Women’s Land Army (WLA) filled in to harvest commercial crops in the absence of the 3 million farmworkers that had gone to war, and set up urban victory gardens in vacant lots.
According to one Victory Garden leaflet written by the USDA,
“A family of two a garden 25’x50′ will amply supply them with all essential vegetables. Aside from sweet corn and potatoes. For a family of two adults and two children or three adults a garden 50’x100′ will be plenty.”
The image below, taken from a Victory Garden pamphlet, shows an example of a 20’x30′ vegetable garden and what could be planted.
And as for what plants to plant:
“The following list of vegetables to raise, are the best for the small garden. They require the least effort and have great nutritional value:
beets, beans, broccoli, cabbage, carrots, lettuce, onions, peppers, swiss chard, tomatoes, turnips, winter squash, peas.”
As for planning your crops to grow enough to preserve for the year:
“In canning you should plan on putting up from eighty-five to one-hundred and fifteen quarts for each member of the family for a season.”
Using Victory Gardens in Modern Times
The National Gardening Association reports that nearly 20 million Americans grow their own produce today, with many starting new Victory Garden projects in response to growing concerns about our nation’s food supply and the high cost of groceries.
While we’re not in a war anymore that threatens to empty our grocery store produce shelves, I think the message is still important:
Grow and preserve your own food, so that others who cannot can rely on the store.
We’ve seen in recent times the effect of the pandemic, food supply shortages, people hoarding and making runs on grocery stores.
Even global warming has begun effecting food supplies.
Where we are, it’s not uncommon to be snowed in for days or weeks at a time.
What if you lose your job or a source of income and suddenly don’t have the money for groceries?
Even something as simple as your car being in the shop, or you hurting yourself and not being able to drive.
Self-sufficiency is my safety blanket and makes it so that I never have to worry about whether I can make it to the store or if I have the money for food.
So while we’re not in a war (at the moment), I consider my own family’s well-being and security Victory enough.
We grow our own vegetables and fresh fruits and can, freeze, dehydrate and pickle for our food security.
So consider making your own victory garden and harvesting fresh produce from just a few seed packets.
Here’s my complete guide on how to start a garden from scratch if this is your first time with home gardens.
Even if you only have a small front yard, window boxes or tiny garden plots, you can grow a surprising amount of leafy greens and fresh vegetables.
Awhile ago I found several adorable pamphlets from, I believe, the USDA.
Please click below for your free download.
The victory garden guide (1944)
Garden guide, 1943 : garden for victory
Victory Garden Leaders Handbook
Tuesday 18th of May 2021
Thank you for sharing; as well as the links to the old documents!
Saturday 12th of September 2015
Thanks for sharing this!