Written by: Penelope Hyland, Colorado Master Gardener, 2018
Maybe, like me, you’ve never heard of Victory Gardens before. My family had a long history of farming and gardening. I had heard the stories of lack and rationing – probably some of what was behind the constant “clean your plate” at dinner time! I had also heard the stories in the evening of my grandfather and other family members in WWII. Where ever we lived, there was always a garden and in the kitchen menus revolved around what vegetable or fruit was ready for harvest, and then there was canning season. But throughout all of this ongoing activity, I had never heard the term “Victory Garden”.
During WWI, Europe’s agricultural workers had been recruited into the military and farm land became battle fields causing a huge shortage of food. The burden of feeding millions of starving people fell to the United States.
Citizens were encouraged to grow their own gardens in whatever available space they had to supplement food rations and boost morale. Victory gardens were also thought of as “war gardens” and an effort to help the troops; food gardens for defense to reduce the pressure on public food supplies. Any and all available space was encouraged to be used including private residences, public parks, empty lots, rooftops, pots and flower boxes. No space was too small.
Pamphlets were also printed educating the public on what type of seeds were best to sow, when to sow, dealing with insects and harvesting. Harvests were so plentiful, that they then started pamphlets on canning and preserving food. A United States School Garden Army was launched through the Board of Education to teach children the basics of gardening. The children were called “soldiers of the soil”.
The gardens were so successful that they held festivals to showcase the produce grown in gardens around the country and the victory gardens supplied 1/3 of all food for the US. By 1942 there were over 15 million victory gardens and in 1944 20 million victory gardens produced 8 million tons of food! Victory gardens became symbols of self-reliance, food production and community resilience.
Today Modern Victory Gardens are making a come back with a new slogan of “eat what you grow and grow what you eat.” The message is to cultivate a more healthy and nutritious diet which starts with the garden. Vegetables grown in your own garden heighten the taste and nutrition of meals; it provides empowerment and fulfillment from learning basic skills of providing for families and self.
There are numerous benefits from growing your own food whether it’s a single plant in a pot or a large family garden plot:
- Better nutrition
- Saves money
- Benefits for the planet by increasing vegetation
- Benefits habitat
- Increased health benefits
- Improves mental health with exposure to sunshine & fresh air
- Improved feelings of competence
- Good family activity
- Education benefits in biology
- Fosters new ideas in recipes and meal planning
Today, we are faced with a new “war” against COVID-19. Because of the pandemic, there are increasing economic stresses and difficulty in obtaining needed supplies. The fact that spring has just sprung is good news in the face of this “stay at home” time. It is, indeed, the perfect time in many ways to start your own Victory Garden. It will provide you with something to do while you are spending more time at home as well as fresh produce to look forward to in the coming months that will enhance your meals while saving you money.
In a new pilot program, local Master Gardeners are teaming up with the Pueblo Food Project in coordination with the City Parks and Rec program to create edible landscape gardens in several locations throughout the City of Pueblo. Residents will be encouraged to help themselves to the harvest in an effort to not only provide food for citizens but also to demonstrate gardening practices – just one more Victory Garden!
How can you start your own Victory Garden? Perhaps a tomato plant in a pot, some herbs on the windowsill or maybe a small section of your yard can be converted to grow the vegetables that you and your family like to eat. It is also easy to include a few edibles among your ornamentals for an appealing landscape. Let’s revive the Victory Gardens of old and become victorious gardeners!
Don’t forget you can contact Master Gardeners at 719-583-6566 for answers to gardening questions.