Will we see the return of Victory Gardens?

After receiving yet another nightly dose of anxiety-producing news on the COVID-19 outbreak, I decided I needed to do something to get busy and try to relieve my own anxiety. 

 Being a gardener, my thoughts naturally turned to what I could do to get my hands in the soil. This is not as easy as it sounds as there is still a foot of snow on the ground here in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. 

The answer came in the form of two 8-foot long shop lights I have for starting seeds. I usually only use one of the 8-footers to start a few peppers and tomatoes inside, but under these extraordinary circumstances, I thought I’d dig out a second shop light and set it up. I’ll plant some quick-growing microgreens, lettuce, and arugula under the second shop light, which should give me some fresh greens in a few weeks.  

 While I was at the store picking up the fluorescent bulbs for the shop light I got to thinking of the Victory Gardens of WWI and WWII.

During these two epic wars, citizens were encouraged to grow gardens as a way to supply fresh fruit and vegetables for the war effort at home and abroad. It was also hoped that it would boost the morale of those who were at home worrying about their loved ones abroad. I don’t think the term “anxiety” was battered around back then like it is now, but I think it’s safe to say that’s what they meant when they said gardening would “boost morale.” 

Like the time we’re living in right now, there was a lot of uncertainty about the future as these wars were going on. No one knew for sure how or when it would end. People were most likely staying pretty close to home like we are now. However, unlike our current situation, which we hope will only last a few weeks or months, these wars lasted for several years. 

People needed something to keep their hands and minds busy during the two wars. The answer came in the simple act of planting gardens, which were appropriately dubbed “Victory Gardens.” 

One of the unintended or at least unexpected consequences of the Victory Gardens was how victoriously productive they were.  

During WWI there was a severe food shortage in Europe because farmers in the U.S. and Europe were needed in the war effort and the countryside where they once grew crops had become a battlefield. The burden of supplying food to our allies in Europe fell on the U.S. 

In 1917, just weeks before we entered the First World War, Charles Lathrop Pack organized the National War Garden Commission. The sole purpose of the commission was to encourage Americans to pitch in with the war effort by utilizing every available space–including parks, school grounds, backyards, and parks–to grow fresh produce.

The idea took off like a soldier on a mission and soon the government went from helping to educate people on how to garden, to educating them on how to can and store fresh produce.  

By 1918 there were over 5.2  million Victory Gardens that went on to produce a whopping 1.45 million quarts of fruits and vegetables. The population in the U.S. at that time was just over 100 million.

After WWI ended Victory Garden went out of the collective vernacular, but not for very long. During the WWII, the crops grown on U.S. soil were mostly shipped overseas to the men and women fighting the war, resulting in rationing at home.

Once again the Victory Gardens were called upon, this time to supply fresh produce to folks on American soil, and again as a way to “boost morale”. 

The most popular produce grown in the Victory Gardens of WWII included beans, cabbage, kohlrabi, kale, lettuce, peas, tomatoes, squash, turnips, and Swiss chard. 

By 1944 these Victory Gardens numbered about 20 million, which produced 8 million tons of food. 

Will Victory Gardens make yet another comeback? Most folks, even those ordered to “shelter in” can be outside in their backyards, as long as they’re a safe distance from others. If so, planting a garden may be a good way to “boost morale” and have fresh food available should things get really wonky.

I’ve come to the conclusion that during the COVID-19 outbreak, I can put my head in the sand or my hands in the soil and grow fresh produce for my family and our neighbors. Alas, there are days when I’d rather just put my head in the sand. But I think it would be better for myself and those around me if I get out my seeds and start planting!

Happy gardening and be safe!  

P.S., if you need instructions on setting up a grow light and starting seeds indoors, check out my No-Fail Seed Starting Method.

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