by Claire Brown
When the going gets tough, the tough get growing. Victory Gardens, born of the need to conserve food during World Wars I and II, are making a comeback. But the reason for this resurgence is not global conflict – it’s a global pandemic. The COVID-19 crisis has inspired a nation-wide trend in home gardening.
COVID-19 has forced us to make life-altering changes. We stay in our homes, worry about our own and others’ lives, and endure shortages of staples and supplies. One ray of sunshine: our own backyards, especially for gardeners. Home gardens help us -- body, mind and soul -- as well as the environment and our community.
Dover resident Bill Ross, Professor and of Special Collections librarian at the UNH library, has created a COVID Victory Garden in his backyard: “I began working from home in mid-March and quickly realized that these are not normal times. With the extra time at home, I put my energy into gardening. I mean, I get to be outside, I know where our food is coming from, and it’s better than cleaning the garage.”
From War Gardens to Victory Gardens
Victory Gardens got their start during WWI. By the time the U.S. entered the war, our allies were exhausted and civilians in the war zones were starving. Providing food to our troops and citizens abroad was a priority. To support the war effort overseas, President Woodrow Wilson asked Americans to sacrifice at home.
One of the President’s first steps was to create a federal agency, the Food Administration, with Herbert Hoover in charge. “Food,” Hoover said, “will win the war.” He asked Americans to forego items needed for the war effort – meat, sugar, wheat, and fats – and to eat more produce, preferably homegrown. Charles Lathrop Pack, one of America’s wealthiest businessmen, organized the National War Garden Commission. By 1918, millions of people were growing crops in yards, vacant lots, on fire escapes – anywhere their “Victory Garden” could thrive.
Home Front Gardens – For the Common Good
When the United States entered WWII, citizens were again asked to tighten their belts. Rationing began in 1942 and access to many items, from cars and fuel to silk and shoes, was limited. Americans used ration cards to buy meat, dairy products, coffee, jam, and shortening. The government promoted Victory Gardens through patriotic posters, recipe pamphlets, and canning demonstrations. First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt even had a Victory Garden built on the White House lawn.
When peace was restored, many gardeners put away their hoes and shovels but the Victory Garden concept remains part of the American spirit. And the COVID crisis has reawakened its value.
Victory Gardening for 21st Century Causes
Bill Ross believes that home gardening enables us to connect directly with our food. “I know better than to think I’m saving a ton of money, but I know what does and doesn’t go into the food I grow. And I think I can trust who’s handling it.”
Today, as much as ever, Victory Gardens have returned to keep us healthy, promote responsible citizenship, and protect the environment – commitments shared by Dover Democrats.
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Claire Brown retired to New Hampshire in 2017 after spending 40 years in museum communications, most recently at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C. Claire joined Dover Democrats after moving to Dover and serves on the Executive Committee and chairs its Communications Team. She lives in Dover, enjoys writing, gardening and cooking as well as caring for her two elderly dachshunds, Ivy and Nellie.