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  • Writer's pictureSally Jameson Bond

Gardening for Victory

Spring has definitely sprung here in Southwest Virginia. The forsythia and daffodils are pretty much histoire, and many of the tulips are on their way out as well. Soon it will be the azaleas turn to shine, continuing the parade of color that can be found in almost every neighborhood in town. I do love spring (but fall is my favorite season).

It may be too early for some of you, but around here, hardcore vegetable gardeners (not me, sadly) have already started indoor seeds, and some seedlings and transplants are in the ground now. Asparagus, beets, onions, and spinach will soon be ready, and by June we’ll see cabbage, cucumbers, green beans, potatoes, and squash. (We must wait until July for those scrumptious homegrown tomatoes.) Of course, much of this heavenly produce will be consumed by the gardeners and their families, but some will be given away to friends and neighbors or sold at local Farmers’ Markets. Spread the joy, I say!

As many of you might know, vegetable gardens were a necessity during World War II. But did you know the idea of “victory gardens” actually began during World War I? The U.S. National War Garden Commission was organized in 1917 to encourage all American families to contribute to the war effort by planting and storing their own fruits and vegetables. Originally known as the “war garden movement,” people from all walks of life planted gardens wherever they could—backyards, of course, but also on school grounds and commercial properties, parks, and just about any empty lot they could find. Three million new garden plots were planted in 1917, and more than five million were cultivated in 1918. By the end of the war, the campaign had diminished, but many Americans continued to maintain their Victory Gardens for years afterwards.

Not long after the United States entered World War II, Victory Gardens began to reappear all across the country. It was particularly essential when food rationing began in 1942. First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt even planted a garden on the White House Lawn. (I’m guessing she had a little help.) Folks got creative, using city rooftops, window boxes, baseball fields, and church properties to grow their vegetables. Gardening was a great morale booster, offerering millions of civilian gardeners a tangible (and healthy) way to join the war effort.

Canning became a very popular activity during the war, and fruit cellars (where all those canned items were stored) were common in most homes. In 1943, Americans canned more than four billion jars/cans of food and almost that many the following year. Nearly half of the canned vegetables and two-thirds of the canned fruits available for civilian consumption were “put up” by ordinary Americans (mostly women, of course). Sugar was a home canning staple, and we’ve already learned it was the first food item rationed during the war. However, individuals could submit requests to their local rationing boards for up to twenty extra pounds of sugar per week during canning season. It took some effort to apply for the extra sugar. A detailed proposal describing the canning plan was required, but at least the option was available.

As you might expect, Victory Gardens were popular in Algona during World War II. But you might be surprised to learn the prisoners at Camp Algona also got involved in the effort. In the spring of 1944, the newly arrived POWs were given permission to plant on sixty-five acres inside the prisoner compound, and they raised enough produce (peppers, cabbage, lettuce, tomatoes, celery, etc.) to feed the camp, prisoners and Americans alike, for the entire summer. Additionally, they grew a substantial amount of root crops (beets, carrots, onions, potatoes, etc.) to get them through the winter months.

Lest you think I’m completely inept at gardening, here’s a photo from July 1994 when I successfully grew tomatoes next to our house. (Looks like I added marigolds to keep the bugs away.) The blue arrow points to the “first fruits of Sally’s labors” according to my husband Joe’s writing on the back of the picture.

The odd-looking tomato to the right showed up on the vine in August. Canning was not involved that summer, but I bet we ate home grown tomatoes till we were blue in the face. And I hope we gave some away, too.

Blessings to all.


Sally Jameson Bond is retired and lives in Southwest Virginia with her husband and two dogs. My Mother’s Friend is her first novel. You can find her web site here:

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