Victory Garden Emergence
By Tamara Premo, Extension Master Gardener
Victory gardens are back in vogue as more people are looking to grow their own food in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The Victory Garden movement began during WWI in an effort to get more Americans to grow their own food to allow more food to be exported to support our European allies, where the food would go to both civilians and troops. The European farmers were recruited into the military and many of their farms became battlefields. According to history.com, over 8 million gardens were created in America by 1918!
There was a resurgence of Victory Gardens during WWII when, once again, much of the commercial crops were being exported to support the war effort. Maintaining a Victory Garden was seen as a citizen’s patriotic duty and it helped families stretch their rationing stamps. Even Eleanor Roosevelt planted a Victory Garden on the White House lawn.
Victory Gardens were so popular that they continued well beyond the last world war. In 1975, a new gardening television program debuted on PBS called, “The Victory Garden”. Initially more of a demonstrational presentation, the show eventually expanded to include guests and special features on travel. The show was so well received that it was the oldest gardening program in television history, airing until 2010. Within the same spirit, the series “Edible Feast” continues to air on PBS as a revamp of the original program.
I heard about Victory Gardens 2 on Facebook and I was curious to know if this was a reaction to the COVID pandemic. I joined a FB group called Victory Garden Revival. There is also a group called Victory Gardens for Northern Michigan. The day I joined VGR, there were ~7500 members and 4 days later there were ~11,000 members. Obviously, there is a movement to get back to growing our own food. I asked what motivated members to start a Victory Garden and it was heartening to hear that in addition to feeding their families, most were planting more to help feed their neighbors and to help local food banks and soup kitchens. There were a lot of new gardeners looking for advice, some people were turning part of their lawns into gardens and some were forming cooperatives in their cities.
Since I’ve had more time with the stay at home order, I’ve been able to create more garden beds and plan to grow more vegetables for preserving. I noticed that my neighbor created a new garden on the side of their yard to grow and preserve as much food as they can so they aren’t caught short again. Several weeks ago, I also started growing lettuce and spinach indoors because finding fresh produce at my local grocery store was hit or miss, with mostly empty shelves. I’ve become more frugal by re-growing some of the vegetables I buy, like green onions, celery and carrots. Like my neighbors, my gardening efforts help safeguard me against a future food shortage of my own. I hope to use this experience to educate others as our country slowly phases into some sort of normalcy.
Master Gardener groups across the country are giving Victory Garden workshops and online seminars. Perhaps this is something we can all get involved with by delivering to 4-H groups and outreach events like Smart Gardening and the MG Booth.
In wartime efforts, those who maintained a Victory Garden served the cause. Victory Gardens served a real purpose then, and although the circumstances are different today, we have been fighting an invisible war. While it’s true there is no burden on commercial farmers to feed people overseas and it might not be your patriotic duty today, as it was in war time, but there is a certain sense of security that comes with growing your own food. There is a sense of community when you grow food for others. Especially those who cannot produce food for themselves. Gardeners help others by growing and giving.