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Victory Gardens

By Noelle Pope, Summer Intern

Victory gardens emerged during World War I from 1914 to 1918 when major food production fell due to an emphasis on military and war-mode production. The national food supply went overseas to support troops in Europe and left domestic farmers and agricultural workers burdened to support their own country. Citizens were encouraged to “sow the seeds of victory” by planting their own garden to help combat issues of food shortages and supply for themselves. In North Carolina, the 1918 Selma Merchants Association, in cooperation with the United States Department of Agriculture, encouraged families to increase their production of vegetables in vacant lots and gardens, as it was the citizens’ “patriotic duty to see that every available vacant lot in town this year is planted in some kind of food stuffs.” The Association offered bulletins, seeds, and resources to help families participate in having a victory garden.

A family showing their victory garden produce, circa 1942.

Mamie Sue Jones, an Emergency Home Demonstration Agent for The Smithfield Herald, wrote in March 1918 that she organized a girls’ canning club and suggested every girl grow their own victory garden vegetables that do not have to be canned. She suggested peas, lima beans, onions, potatoes, turnips, and pumpkins. She offered advice for housewives on how to adjust their gardens and produce to meet their family’s needs.

After World War I, home gardens were still used by families to supplement their food supply. During the Great Depression, families often canned their produce to keep for the winter. Gardens were no longer associated with war, but were reserved for family sustenance.

World War II saw a resurgence of victory gardens since rationing limited the amount one could buy. The United States Department of Agriculture began an official Victory Garden program in February 1942 that offered instructions and supplies to amateur gardeners to grow their own food. In an article written for The Franklin Post in February 1942, titled “This Week Nation Calls For More Food For War Needs,” Sam W. Mendenhall wrote about the importance of victory gardens and how they are important to keep a healthy diet for the family during the war. He wrote “according to the 1940 census, there were 31,149 families in North Carolina which did not have gardens. Deficiencies in livestock are even more pronounced.” Victory gardens were designed to correct dietary deficiencies due to rationing all while participating in the war effort.

A typical family victory garden from Washington, D.C.

Posters and advertisement material were common to engage others to grow a garden. Families, especially those in North Carolina, would often plant squash, peppers, collards, and lima beans. Tomatoes were especially popular in the summer. Each crop was rotated annually to provide variety and keep the soil healthy. By 1942, approximately 15 million families planted victory gardens, and the following year the same gardens produced about 40 percent of vegetables grown in 1943.

World War II’s Victory Gardens were especially important because they functioned to provide for the family and to decrease stress on the farmers who were strained by food shortages. Food grown by gardeners also ensured that soldiers overseas were supplied with enough food since canned vegetables were rationed.

A poster promoting the war effort with victory gardens, circa 1918.

Amateur gardeners all across the nation united under one cause. A new sense of patriotism was instilled into Americans by something as simple as planting a garden to support the war effort. Victory gardens serve as a symbol of unity and perseverance. Even though victory gardens phased out after World War II, its symbol is still relevant in this day and age. Its purpose is different now than it was 80 years ago, but its importance to the community and families is just as significant.


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