100 years later: the return of the Victory Gardens

“The War Garden was the chrysalis. The Victory Garden is the butterfly.”

– Victory Gardens Feed the Hungry: The Needs of Peace Demand the Increased Production of Food in America’s Victory Gardens, by Charles Lathrop Pack, President of the National War Gardens Commission

The COVID-19 pandemic has sparked the interest of many new gardeners. Gardening is a way to have some control over your own personal food supply, as well as some comfort knowing that you will have fresh produce in your own backyard. This movement has been compared to the post-World War I (WWI) Victory Gardens, and in many ways, is similar.

Victory Gardens were a product of the end of WWI. However, before there were Victory Gardeners there were War Gardens. During WWI, many Europeans were called to the military. As many farmers were recruited, their land was also recruited as battlefields. This left very little healthy ground for crop production. Shortly before the United States entered the war, Charles Lathrop Pack started the National War Garden Commission as a movement to battle food insecurity in the United States, and with our allies. The National War Garden Commission called upon all American’s to utilize any vacant land for vegetable and grain production. This was the beginning of many school, community, campground and other public garden spaces. In just one year they recorded five million gardens that they estimated were worth a “probable value of half a billion dollars,” as documented in “The War Garden Guyed” by The National War Garden Commission (https://www.loc.gov/item/19011891/).

After the WWI, there was still a need for grain for animals, as well as produce. The National War Garden Commission quickly stepped up to the plate with the push to take what were once successful war gardens and create victory gardens. On behalf of The National War Garden Commission, Charles Lathrop Pack wrote a call to action titled, “Victory Gardens Feed the Hungry: The Needs of Peace Demand the Increased Production of Food in America’s Victory Gardens,” (https://www.loc.gov/item/19002330/). The 20 million American families were called upon to help raise 20 million pounds of produce and grain to share with allies by July 1, 1919. “As food was vital to the winning of the war it is now vital to reconstruction.”

Over a hundred years later we are seeing the need for victory gardens again. Food pantry lines are getting longer, and supermarkets have been depleted of many essentials. Master Gardeners have rose to the challenge by volunteering in community gardens, planting an extra row, and working closely with both food pantries and food banks. Many Master Gardeners in Woodbury County are part of a volunteer ran organization called Up from the Earth (https://upfromtheearth.wixsite.com/siouxland). Up from the Earth is a voluntary system for connecting home gardeners who plan, grow and share produce to people in need. The program encourages home gardeners to “grow an extra row” and distribute excess fruits and veggies to those in need through existing food pantries.

Now more than ever, the work of Master Gardeners and all gardeners, is vital to feeding many in our communities. Join the new movement of Victory Gardens and give gardening a try this year. Iowa State University Extension and Outreach has created a helpful guide to create your own Coronavirus Victory Garden at home (https://www.extension.iastate.edu/news/coronavirus-victory-gardens-and-other-gardening-resources-available).



Katelyn Brinkerhoff
Horticulture Educator
Iowa State University Extension and Outreach—Woodbury County
(712) 276-2157