Thursday, August 28, 2014

Victory Gardens

What made me think of Victory Gardens?  Maybe it was the story about the grape vineyards last week, and the harvest now in progress in eastern Washington.  Or is it because so many of us are harvesting lots of tomatoes, beans, squash and other vegetables from our own gardens after a rather hot summer?  Or is it because of the farmers markets and all the glorious produce available there?  And then there are all the postings on social media for garden stores, how-to ideas, show and tell of someone’s success with this or that vegetable or fruit.

Probably the biggest factor was the picture I saw posted on Twitter by Virgile Septembre showing the victory garden in front of the Louvre in September 1943 during occupation.  It made me think more deeply about the times when vegetable gardens were a necessity instead of a hobby. 
Museé du Louvre - Virgile Septembre September 1943 Victory Garden at Louvre during Occupation of Paris by Nazis

The gardens we now call Victory Gardens actually started during World War I at which time they were called Liberty or War Gardens.  They were popular from 1914 until 1918 because of the panic that food items might become scarce or unavailable.  And they continued through the depression of 1920-1921 but the name became Relief Gardens.  This depression was caused by several factors:  the unemployment caused by the returning soldiers, the end of the military production needed, labor strikes, stock market drop and prices rose.

But then came the Roaring Twenties and no one was interested in growing vegetables other than the farmers who made their living growing produce for the marketplace as well as supporting their own families.

Europe was involved in difficulties but those difficulties hadn’t yet spread to the States until 1929 when suddenly America was once again engulfed in a depression, this one known as The Great Depression of 1929-1939.  Relief Gardens became popular once again.

Suddenly it is May 1942, America is being drawn into the war raging across Europe and the US Office of Price Administration (OPA) freezes prices on everyday items.  The American public is faced with rationing.  First to be rationed was sugar and coffee, that was followed by tires, cars, bicycles, gas, fuel oil and kerosene, solid fuels, stoves, rubber footwear, shoes, processed foods, meats, canned fish, cheese, canned milks, fats, and typewriters.  
World War II Rationing on the US Homefront

To help Americans cope with the food rationing, the US Department of Agriculture started promoting Victory Gardens.  They issued handbooks and pamphlets on how to start a garden whether you lived in a city and grew vegetables in a flower box or pot or in the country but were not already a farmer. The handbooks included things like how to plan the garden, fertilizing, watering and maintaining the gardens.  They even issued a “Victory Garden Leaders Handbook” for those living in big cities and establishing a communal garden.  The pamphlets included a chart on how much was needed to be grown based upon the number of people using the garden.  These publications were helpful for the farm industry as well.

For example:  For one person you needed of tomatoes: 1 bushel (60 lb.) to be used fresh; 20 quarts to be canned for non-growing season; total production fresh, stored and canned - 120 lb..; Number of linear feet of row 75 ft.; amount of seed or plants required 25 plants.  Multiply this by the number of people to be feed.  You can see this chart at Hip Chicks Digs “Growing a Victory Garden”.

The Department of Agriculture also issued recipes booklets promoting the produce raised in the gardens which supplemented the food items allowed in the ration books.  Some of the vegetables were unfamiliar and the recipes provided options for preparation.  The recipes also allowed people to vary the ways they prepared the food to prevent boredom caused by eating the same thing over and over again.

The National WWII Museum has a fact sheet on “What is a Victory Garden? which is an excellent way of learning more about how important Victory Gardens were during the war.  For example, “by 1944 Victory Gardens were responsible for producing 40% of all vegetables grown in the US.  More then one million tons of vegetables were grown in Victory Gardens during the war.”  Or to put it another way “At their peak there were more than 20,000,000 Victory Gardens planted across the US.”

Angelo Pellegrini, who came to America from Casabianca, Italy in 1913 advocated growing one’s own food as he grew up in Seattle, Washington.  He wrote several books on the pleasures of wine, food and good company as well on his garden.  He did this even though he had a PhD. in English from University of Washington and as a professor teaching classics and later became Professor Emeritus. If you want to be entertained and learn about food and gardening, some of his books are:  Vintage Pelligrini, The Unprejudiced Palate, The Food Lover’s Garden, and Immigrant’s Return among others.  They are available through your local library.  
A Couple of Angelo Pelligrin's books

And then you should read Crosscut where there is a great article by Ronald Holden in the August 26, 2014 issue entitled “Food’s grow-your-own movement:  Some Work Required”.   Angelo Pelligrini said, in talking about gardens “there will be joy in the harvest, and the greatest pleasure in eating the fruit of your labor.”

Here’s hoping that you too are encouraged to start planning a fall and winter garden, or if you need more time, plan the spring garden.  Happy Growing. 


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