Gardening History – Story Behind Victory Gardens

By Nikki Tilley | March 25, 2020
by Nikki Tilley
March 25, 2020

Whether you’re a history buff or not, you’ve likely heard of Victory Gardens at some point. This is one part of our nation’s history that I’m actually quite proud of, especially since I’m a gardener. The story of Victory Gardens is an interesting one, and with current events keeping many of us at home these days, you may want to consider planting a food garden like this for your family and community.

What are Victory Gardens?

In simple terms, these were vegetable gardens grown by average citizens during the World War era. Similar patriotic type gardens were grown during WWI, but it wasn’t until WWII that the name Victory Gardens was introduced as a practical way to contribute to the war effort.

The U.S. government asked its citizens to plant their own vegetable gardens to help with food shortages, and they responded. Nearly 20 million families grew around 40 percent of our country’s vegetables by 1944 – mine included and probably yours too.

Victory Garden History

Victory Gardens were a continuation of the war gardens aimed at reducing food shortages during the first World War. Not only did those here at home rely on food, but our military and even some of its allies did as well. Since canned fruits and veggies were rationed during this time, civilians were encouraged to grow their own produce to supplement their needs, stretching their ration coupons, and prevent possible hoarding of food.

Shortly after the United States entered World War II, promotion of Victory Gardens began with numerous pamphlets handed out to guide urban and suburban gardeners. A number of magazines and newspapers published helpful articles, and patriotic posters went out urging participation. The U.S. government even printed recipe books on preparing homegrown vegetables for meals. This huge media campaign proclaimed that “Food will win the war.”

These gardens were grown all over the United States, and women were particularly encouraged to plant Victory Gardens in their yards while their husbands were off fighting. You could find these gardens in all shapes and sizes, much like today. People grew Victory Gardens on farms, in backyards, on city rooftops, or in window boxes. Community gardens were planted in parks and vacant lots, and many schools had their own gardens which provided fresh vegetables for school lunches.

Basically, anything could be grown in a Victory Garden. Whatever fruits, vegetables, and herbs were necessary to supplement food was grown. Most common were vegetables like tomatoes, carrots, lettuce, beets, and peas. Interestingly, it was thanks to Victory Gardens that both Swiss chard and kohlrabi became popular, as they’re easy to grow. Much of the produce was preserved for winter, and there was no shortage of women’s magazines having articles about how to can, store, dry, pickle, and freeze one’s harvest. Communities were also encouraged to share their surplus with others.

My own family took part in this, and my mom remembers stories about the family growing food to supplement rationing. And, while I could not find any specific information on troops growing their own food, I managed to come across an old photo of my grandfather in a garden during WWII with other soldiers. If anyone would have been gardening, it most certainly would have been him. He could grow just about anything. There was also a community garden associated with Euclid Beach, near where my mother grew up in Ohio. The park grew watermelons on their popcorn farm and auctioned them off to help raise funds and feed others at the same time.

Growing Victory Gardens gave Americans a feeling that they were doing something helpful. I take pride in knowing that my family participated. Wouldn’t it be nice if we could all do this naturally, without any war or quarantine”¦ just because. Think of all the people we could help while doing what so many gardeners enjoy anyway.

The story behind Victory Gardens is an interesting one and you can celebrate this Victory Garden history by growing your own World War II era garden, or any type of veggie garden, with heirloom plants of the time, or grow your favorites. Planting a food garden is a rewarding endeavor. And don’t forget to help your neighbors by sharing your surplus with others in the community!

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  • Michele
    Comment added April 28, 2020Reply

    My gardens have been growing in size every year and while I think it is great that so many people are gardening this year I wish they would stop with the hoarding of supplies. Last week I saw a woman picking out veggie seeds and she was grabbing EVERY packet of each variety she chose. When I ventured out today there were plenty of flower seeds but veggie seeds were limited to corns, root veggies, and greens. Thankfully a shipment of started plants had come in and I was able to get a few things I didn't have seeds for this year.

  • Jacques Hogue
    Comment added April 23, 2020Reply

    I would like to know how to build a raised bed like the ones showed in this article.

  • Diane
    Comment added April 23, 2020Reply

    Our governor doesn't allow the purchase of garden plants, supplies, etc.

    • Kathryn Cuming
      Comment added December 19, 2020Reply

      That is false. The Michigan governor did NOT ban the sale of garden supplies.

  • joel LeGrand
    Comment added April 23, 2020Reply

    Some of the country & hill folks have always grown there food. One farmer said he was so poor, "that there was no change when Walstreet fail"in 1929. In truth his family was better off then most, because they grew & raised their food.
    This reminds me of the UK's War Farms, cause by the German blockade of UK to stop inports & exports of goods. I can not remember atime when I did not work in the family garden.
    Every May my father planted one acre (more land then most house are on)of garden & 4 acre of dent corn. We had fruit & nut trees, as well as grape vines, honey bees, beef & milk cattle, pigs,chicken,ducks,rabbits

  • Norma Jean Grant
    Comment added April 18, 2020Reply

    We are ar war with a virus! We need to eat healthy to be less susceptible. The seed story of not being able to purchase seed should not be a total deterrent when we can grow our own carrot seed with a grocery store carrot, garlic. (Barely place in soil to get it to develop a bulb)'natural grocery stores tomatoes may grow, cabbage and celery and potatoes.

    • Diane
      Comment added April 23, 2020Reply

      Not allowed to buy fertilizer. Will cat or human manure work, Norma Jean?

  • Lisa
    Comment added March 29, 2020Reply

    Started my, ‘Victory Garden’,March 18th, 2020. My last day of work. Also, hatching and raising baby chicken. Plan to help provide food during or countries restart.

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