The victory garden continues as a culture icon. When Michelle Obama planted vegetables at the White House, people called it a victory garden.
Learning about the origin of the victory garden could shed light on the importance of growing food locally today. That hope inspired a new book, “Sowing the Seeds of Victory: American Gardening Programs of World War I ” (McFarland).
Historian and gardener Rose Hayden-Smith, the author, traces the ‘grow your own vegetables’ movement from the United States Government in both World War I and again in World War II. During both wars Victory gardens became a way to support our troops. If Americans could grow their own food at home, more food supplies from farms could be sent to American troops across the sea.
Hayden-Rose, an advocate for local food for the local table, writes that from the beginnings of the victory garden movement in WWI children were introduced to gardening in schools as a way to put them in touch with nature. Home gardens became a way that women could show their support for the war movement.
Organizations we meet along the way as she tells her story include the National War Garden Commission and the United States School Garden Army. Both illustrate the intensity in which the United States sought to encourage gardening, especially growing vegetables. The Government incorporated a public relations committee called the Creel Commission to spread the word to every American that growing food for the family table was a serious issue. The many wartime posters with a gardening theme included in the book present the visual message that spread across America.
The book traces the important role that women have played in agriculture through the victory garden movement. During WWI 20,000 largely middle-class urban and suburban women worked on American farms as wage laborers. Thus farming was not only providing food but also a way to incorporate women in the workforce.
Hayden-Smith discuses the problems in the Victory Garden campaign including the lack of knowledge about the source of the food for the table, especially among urban children. That is certainly something we face today as well.
She says, “Gardens can help reshape social and spatial life in our communities.” Your garden is not just a garden but also a way to build community and grow as a responsible citizen.
Hayden-Smith lays out her goal in writing the book. She says, “My greatest hope for this book is that it may be used as a lens through which to view our current situation.” Today people around the country participate in urban farming, community gardens, locally growing produce, and even the food to table movement called Slow Food. Such activities belong to the current food systems movement but more people need to join for it to have an impact on the way we garden.
The fact that the author is a passionate gardener who has traveled the country to witness how people are getting in touch with the land and growing their own food makes her words that much stronger. At the end of the book Hayden-Smith makes the claim, “I am a Victory Grower.” By that point you can’t help but believe her.