COVID Victory Gardens
May 12, 2020
* * * * * * * * * *
Reports are coming in from parts of the country where spring planting comes sooner than here: Covid-19 is causing an outbreak of vegetable garden fever. Growing your own food makes a lot of sense at a time when a trip to the grocery store has an element of risk, when our food supply chain is warning of disruptions, and when people have a lot of extra time on their hands. Growing vegetable gardens during a time of crisis is bound to remind people of the most successful home gardening campaign in our nation’s history: the Victory Gardens of the World War II.
While everybody has heard of Victory Gardens, the idea of the homefront war garden actually began with World War I Liberty Gardens. National War Garden Commission president Charles Lathrop Pack explained Liberty Gardens would “arouse the patriots of America to the importance of putting all idle land to work, to teach them how to do it, and to educate them to conserve by canning and drying all food they could not use while fresh. The idea of the ‘city farmer’ came into being.” That may be a bit of an overstatement. People in cities certainly did grow vegetable gardens before 1917, but the Liberty Gardens of WWI really produced results both here and nation-wide. The new Clay County Extension Agency helped 300 people in the county start a garden and taught 500 local women to can. These women canned 10,000 quarts and dried 5 tons of fruits and veggies. Americans canned 1.45 billion quarts of food in 1918.
Liberty Gardens also had a major effect on the development of community gardening in America, as urban residents without yards of their own shared resources, tools, and labor to cultivate large lots together. Gangs of gardeners even bullied owners of vacant lots to let them turn the “slacker land” into a garden. No such tactics were needed in Moorhead, though. Susan Lally offered 17 lots she owned just north of the courthouse to anyone looking for free gardening space. Students were encouraged to grow a school garden, and the kids at Glyndon Elementary did just that.
A generation later a Second World War called gardeners into service once more and on a greater scale. It is estimated that 1 in 3 vegetables grown in America in 1943 were grown in a home or community Victory Garden. According to county extension records, an astonishing one in nine residents of Clay County attended classes on food preservation in 1944. Those who attended classes canned 730,714 quarts and dried 455,094 pounds of fruits and veggies just in this county! And for those who needed gardening space, “The Merchants and Professional Men of Moorhead” sponsored a community garden by the courthouse and Barnesville offered free land by the fairgrounds.
I will warn you, however, that once a new gardener realizes just how delicious homegrown tomatoes are, they will find that, like the flu, vegetable garden fever returns every year.
*This article is taken from Clay County Histories, an HCSCC column published in the FM Extra.