War Gardens or Victory Gardens were planted at private residences and public parks during both world wars. They were promoted as a way to reduce pressure on the public food supply and also as “morale boosters.” Gardeners could feel their contribution of labor helped the war effort in addition to rewarding them with the produce they grew. They were adopted in Canada, the UK, Australia, and New Zealand in addition to here in the United States.
Charles Lathrop Pack organized the US National War Garden Commission in March 1917. Pack, a third-generation timberman, was one of the five wealthiest men in America prior to World War I. He came up with the idea to increase the food supply without increasing the “use of land already cultivated, of labor already engaged in agricultural work, of time devoted to other necessary occupations, and of transportation facilities which were already inadequate to the demands made upon them.”
The commission publicized the gardens with pamphlets, printed material for newspaper distribution, and colorful posters. The Commission claimed that the majority of the 30,000,000 WWI soldiers had been farmers before they went to war. The reduction in farm labor here and in Europe along with farmland devastated by warfare had many people worried about food supplies.
In addition to home gardens, the Commission also helped with the United States Bureau of Education’s mobilization of school children in the food production effort. Through the United States School Garden Army program, millions of children were taught the value of gardening as a patriotic effort during war-time. They learned the importance of food production through practical work in school based gardens.
President Wilson took a personal interest in the United States School Garden Army. He gave a ringing endorsement of the project to Secretary of the Interior Franklin Lane. This is his letter:
February 25, 1918.
My dear Mr. Secretary:
I sincerely hope that you may be successful through the Bureau of Education in arousing the interest of teachers and children in the schools of the United States in the cultivation of home gardens. Every boy and girl who really sees what the home garden may mean will, I am sure, enter into the purpose with high spirits, because I am sure they would all like to feel that they are in fact fighting in France by joining the home garden army. They know that America has undertaken to send meat and wheat and flour and other foods for the support of the soldiers who are doing the fighting for the men and women who are making the munitions, and for the boys and girls of Western Europe, and that we must also feed ourselves while we are carrying on this war. The movement to establish gardens, therefore, and to have the children work in them is just as real and patriotic an effort as the building of ships or the firing of cannon. I hope that this spring every school will have a regiment in the Volunteer War Garden Army.
Cordially and sincerely yours,
In the development of school gardeners two ideas were given consideration. An immediate increase in food production went hand in hand with the educational value of the work.
Not all children became productive gardeners, but a great deal of work done in schools helped swell war-time food production. Perhaps of greater importance was the creation of a vast army of future citizens trained in the principles of thrift, industry, service, patriotism and responsibility.
Of unquestioned educational value was the yard garden planting campaign begun in April, 1918, by the children of the public schools under the supervision of Richard Schmidt, war garden director and supervisor of vocational agriculture in the city high school. The work was confined to the pupils of the grammar schools from the fourth to the eighth grades. County Horticultural Commissioner F. P. Roullard gave his services to familiarize student inspectors with the insect pests, and give in the schools illustrated lectures on insects of economic value, the film illustrations being by Claud C. Laval the photographer and moving picture man. Besides aiding in the raising of vegetables, the children made exhibition at the county fair in October, 1918, and prizes amounting to $100 in thrift stamps were awarded…
— History of Fresno County California
with Biographical Sketches (at Accessible Archives)
After the war, Charles Lathrop Pack published The School Book of Forestry and Trees as Good Citizens in 1922.) [Back]
The Commission worked with cartoonists and other artists to produce the posters shown above and cartoons like the illustrated ditties below from the Commission’s 1918 publication, The War Garden Guyed.