Wartime gardens helped cultivate food victories; home gardens are still popular today

Wartime gardens helped cultivate food victories; home gardens are still popular today
While U.S. troops fought World Wars I and II overseas, Americans planted “victory gardens” at home to contribute to the war effort.

Throughout the nation’s involvement in World War II, U.S. food production and distribution networks were focused on feeding 16 million servicemen and -women stationed abroad. At home, citizens were urged to plant vegetable gardens to prevent domestic shortages. Between 1942 and 1944, an estimated 20 million victory gardens took root, supplying roughly 40 percent of the produce Americans ate.

Gardens sprouted in backyards, schoolyards and empty lots. First lady Eleanor Roosevelt even planted one on the front lawn of the White House.

On Farm Mobilization Day, Jan. 12, 1943, President Franklin D. Roosevelt delivered a nationwide address emphasizing the important role to be played by American agriculture in winning the war. Food, he said, “is the lifeline of the forces that fight for freedom."

[subh] Virginians answered the call

In Virginia, the call to action was answered by farm families across the state. Already known for self-sufficiency, farmers doubled down on efforts to produce food for their families, communities and country.
Lee Frank, a King George County farmer, began managing his family’s farm in 1942 when he was just 14 years old. His father was injured in World War I, and the younger Frank took on his responsibilities while still going to school.

Frank and his mother kept the farm going by raising corn, hay, wheat and vegetables.

“I was too young to go to war when (World War II) first started. So it was nice to know victory gardens could help feed other people from families whose sons and husbands had gone to war,” he recalled.

Frank’s uncle had a tomato cannery where local growers took tomatoes and cucumbers from their gardens to be processed. His uncle also owned a country store in the community of Shiloh, where the canned goods were sold.

On the farm, Frank’s mother raised chickens and a few dairy cows. She sold eggs and milk, along with butter she churned, in his uncle’s store. She often would barter farm goods for coffee and sugar, which were in short supply due to wartime rationing.

[subh] “Every Kitchen a Canning Factory”

Posters, pamphlets and magazines promoted victory gardening. Catchphrases such as “Can All You Can” and “Every Kitchen a Canning Factory” extolled the benefits of preserving foods from home gardens.

Home canning soared during World War II, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, reaching its peak in 1943, with more than 4.1 billion jars canned in homes and community canning centers.

John Ferguson, vice president of Scott County Farm Bureau, was in seventh grade when Pearl Harbor was attacked. He recalled his family’s large stovetop canner, given to them by the former Farmers Home Administration during the ensuing war years.

“My mother would can produce from our garden, and that would help feed us during the winter,” Ferguson said. “We could store potatoes and apples in the basement, but we had to can tomatoes, corn, beans, beets and cucumbers.”

He explained that food from the garden was a lifesaver for his family and many others.

“During the Depression and World War II, there was a scarcity of food and money. We had to live out of the garden. Food from the garden was about the only thing people had to eat.”


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