Rose Hayden-Smith •

Monthly Archives: July 2014

The War to End All Wars: Part 2

In a previous blog posting, I talked a little about “The War to End All Wars” – specifically, the centennial day of the beginning of World War I – “The Great War” – which I mark as a somber occasion.

Today, I’m sharing a little more about why the American government placed such a priority on creating a national Liberty/Victory Garden program during World War I. The fears about food security/access were real.

The pace of global change during World War I was stunning. Within a single six-week period, the centuries-old Romanov Empire in Russia collapsed and America entered the war and began mobilizing millions of men to fight on foreign soil. This mass mobilization of Americans for foreign combat was unprecedented. A bias rooted in America’s colonial experience with an occupying British Army had kept America from maintaining a strong, centralized military, and the nation scrambled to respond to its new wartime footing.

In World War I, the industrial and economic might of nations turned toward the prosecution of total war. Technological “advancements” com- pounded the horror and misery. World War I brought the widespread use of machine guns (capable of firing up to six-hundred rounds per minute, with deadly results), the introduction of chemical warfare (chlorine and mustard gas), aerial warfare, flamethrowers, and the tank (which, in fact, proved of limited use in World War I). Unterseebooten (U-boats) prowled the seas. Barbed wire, more commonly used in agricultural settings, was used with deadly effect on the battlefield. The war created an international arms race, with the goal to inflict as many casualties as possible.

An important part of the new wartime footing for America was to address concerns about the nation’s food system. With the ability […]

The War to End All Wars: Part 1

Today, July 28th, 2014, is a sad centennial; it marks the day that World War I –  “The War to End All Wars” – began.

Many of know me primarily for my work in sustainable food systems, and as a garden-based educator who is passionate about Liberty and Victory Gardens (past and present). In fact, however, I am a U.S. historian whose work focuses on the American home front during World War I. I am a World War I historian. I expect to be very busy during the next five years, educating people about the worldwide conflict that is essential to understanding so many of the things that have happened in the world since.

I’ve always studied wars.  My first passion as a young historian – beginning at about age 9 – was the American Civil War. I was the only elementary-aged student in my school who had a subscription to “Civil War Times” magazine, whose family took her to visit Civil War battlefields in the South, who read Bruce Catton. In junior high and high school, I shifted my area of study to World War II, and later on to Vietnam (shaped strongly by my childhood experiences watching the war on TV and living on a military base during part of that conflict), and later still, to study around the Revolutionary War.  My greatest interest has been the impact of wars on the home front (cultural and social issues, and comparative analysis of home front experiences).

The topic of Victory Gardens during World War I really piqued my interest, because they represented hope and creation during a time of unprecedented destruction.

Some people object to the term “Victory Gardens” for contemporary use because of its historical association […]

The Pennsylvania School of Horticulture for Women

Nearly a decade prior to America’s entry into World War I, the Pennsylvania School of Horticulture for Women opened its doors. Its beginning was inauspicious. However, it led to one of the most interesting chapters of World War I: women’s quest for suffrage and opportunities to serve during the war via the creation of a Woman’s Land Army of America.

Women were vital to the success of wartime food programs – including the Liberty/Victory Garden effort – because they controlled and managed home food purchases and most food preparation (i.e., the household economy). During World War I, women’s magazines were replete with articles about gardening and food preservation. Women had also long been involved in reform efforts that influenced later wartime gardening work, including civic beautification, school gardens, working with immigrant populations, and tackling issues related to poverty (for example, Hull House).

Women used their work in gardening and horticulture to press for suffrage and fuller participation in the nation’s cultural and political life during World War I.  One expression of this was the Woman’s Land Army of America (WLAA) – which “enlisted” nearly 20,000 women (many of them urban and suburban college coeds) – to help on the farm front. The “farmerettes” as they were called, provided vital farm labor “over here” as men were mobilized to fighting “over there”.

The Woman’s Land Army would never have come into existence without a previous effort: an obscure horticultural school for women in Philadelphia that served as a catalyst for the creation of the Woman’s Land Army. Humble in its beginning, the Pennsylvania School of Horticulture for Women proved to be of national importance in subsequent years.

The founders of the Pennsylvania School of Horticulture for Women held this […]

Where Gardens Lead Us

Gardens lead us places. As a garden-based educator, I have seen people move from gardens into greater engagement with their food system. I jokingly refer to gardening as “the gateway drug to the food system”, but there is much truth to this statement. Gardens lead to heightened awareness in the food system. In World War 1 and World War 2, there was a call for more gardens. For better gardens. Buried in the quickly organized National Defense Gardening Conference proceedings – drafted at a national meeting convened a mere twelve days after the bombing of Pearl Harbor – were public policy recommendations that would make sense today. They included providing funding and credit to help purchase gardening supplies and equipment, and adopting policies that would provide “adequate productive land for gardens for tenants.”

This is a Sputnik moment for America in terms of food, our future, and our relationship with the global community. The future is about feeding 8 billion people in a decade, with fewer resources, less political stability, and an unpredictable climate. Gardens lead us places, and they can lead us, in part, to solutions that will help feed ourselves, our communities, our nation, and the world.

Please consider picking up a copy of my book, “Sowing the Seeds of Victory: American Gardening Programs of World War I”. It’s an interesting interplay between past and present, and I think you’ll enjoy reading it.

In the meantime, as we all hear too much bad news on every front, I urge you to let a garden – maybe your garden, maybe a garden in a public place – lead you, lead us all, to a place of peace.

“A Garden for Everyone. Everyone in a Garden.”



Gardening: Always A Good Time

Gardening: it’s always a good time.

This is a good time in the garden at #stpaulsventura. In the flush days of summer, when the garden’s bounty is bursting forth from the raised beds we’ve constructed, it’s a joy to be in the garden. I can’t wait for my daily visit. Others can’t wait to visit either; I often run into other people there. Many days I visit twice. Or three times. I take pictures and post them on social media, I gush about it in conversation, I flush when anyone mentions “the garden.” I. Am. In. Love. Completely, utterly, hopelessly in love.

I am in a good time.

Last week when I attempted to weed around the corn (reference Tara: “the corn’s as high as an elephant’s eye”), I was repeatedly buzzed by yellow jackets. I didn’t get stung – I strategically retreated – but it was probably not the best time. (Although I had a great time sitting in the chair on the other side of the garden, inhaling the scent of lavender. And when I returned the following morning, there were no yellow jackets, and I weeded some and wove bean tendrils around the corn stalks to create a green trellis of wonder).

I haven’t had a bad time yet. I must admit on that hot day when Agromin dropped several yards of mulch, my spirit nearly failed me. A huge pile, a wheelbarrow, a little shovel, and me. But God always provides, help appeared when I least expected it, and my muscles and will were strong. And as I watched the space transform, it was a good time.

When recalling my career in gardens, I’m not sure I’ve ever had a bad time. Certain efforts haven’t […]

By |July 22nd, 2014|Categories: Other|Tags: , , |0 Comments

Photo: NYC WWI Liberty Garden

This hand-colored photograph shows a WWI Liberty Garden in New York City’s Bryant Park (42nd Street and Fifth Avenue).  The Liberty Garden effort – these gardens soon came to be called “Victory Gardens” –  was led by the National War Garden Commission (NWGC) in partnership with the federal government and other organizations.

Demonstration gardens such as the one in Bryant Park were vital to spreading the gardening gospel. These gardens served as a point of inspiration, a place for teaching and community-building, and ultimately, as a tool to help mobilize the nation to home front food production. You can learn more about Liberty Gardens and the work of the NWGC in my book, “Sowing the Seeds of Victory.”

The garden depicted is in this image shows an oasis surrounded by high-rise buildings. Who says urban agriculture is new? It also features an advertisement for Chesterfield cigarettes.  The Victory Grower recommends taking up the gardening habit, but doesn’t encourage smoking cigarettes!

Photographer: Frances Benjamin Johnston (1864-1952); image available from the Library of Congress.

“A Garden for Everyone. Everyone in a Garden.”

The parable of the sower

I am fortunate to have professional work that aligns with my personal interests and spiritual beliefs. My livelihood involves sustainability and the food system. My professional work at the University of California began in garden-based education for youth and adults. That is still where my passion lies. Recently, that passion, knowledge and my core beliefs about the value of local food production has been expressed through work at my faith community, St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Ventura. There I have been blessed to be part of a group organizing and working a congregational garden. Our little garden is part of a larger initiative, Seeds of Hope, which is sponsored by the Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles.

Today’s Gospel lesson was Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23. “Hear then the parable of the sower.” Reverend Susan wove a wonderful sermon around this piece, which was extraordinarily rich and resonant. I could barely keep myself in the pew, so eager was I to go forth to be “good soil” in the world (but only after a brief stop in the St. Paul’s garden to put my hands in the very tangible good soil we are cultivating there).

Those of us who live in Ventura County often take “good soil” as a given; we are blessed to live in one of the most agriculturally productive places in the world. I often find myself reminding others that this place is unique: it has an extraordinary climate, great soil and innovative farmers. Soil is not dirt. Soil is that impossibly thin layer of the earth’s crust from which we derive our food. It is vital to life.

Soil supplies air, water, nutrients and mechanical support for the roots of growing plants. The productivity of any […]

By |July 14th, 2014|Categories: Other||0 Comments

WW1 gardens, democracy and immigration

WWI gardens, democracy and immigration are strongly linked. A major home front goal of the U.S. government during WWI was to secure and mobilize the support of the nation’s sizeable immigrant population. The iconic posters calling the nation to service were printed in many languages, an acknowledgement of a basic fact in American life: we have inherently been a pluralistic society, even if that fact is not always reflected in our political leadership. Gardening proved to be an important and successful way to unify America’s diverse population during WWI; gardening provides a way for us to transcend our differences today.

Whoever we are, wherever we hail from, however we choose to classify ourselves, our relationship to the land links us. Even when we don’t have direct contact with it, land sustains us. Those who worked on national gardening efforts during World War I understood the connection between rural and urban. They envisioned a “nation of garden cities” … and all that the term promised. Beautiful, vibrant, healthy cities. Abundant and prosperous rural landscapes. Sustainable areas between, foreshadowing the emergence of the great American “middlescape”…the suburb. 

After the Armistice was signed in 1919, one national leader expressed his feeling that the war gardening effort was “a forge that is daily strengthening the links in our chain of democracy…Link by link the chain of our democracy has grown stronger.”

Can the act of gardening really strengthen democracy? I think the answer is “yes.” Read more in “Sowing the Seeds of Victory” here.

“A Garden for Everyone. Everyone in a Garden.”

Food Sleuth Radio Interview

Food Sleuth Radio recently interviewed me about my book, “Sowing the Seeds of Victory.” It’s a wide-ranging interview about gardens and the food system, from the history to contemporary public policy. Worth a listen.

The link is here.

“A Garden for Everyone. Everyone in a Garden.”

The Fruits of Victory: Food Preservation

“The Fruits of Victory” was a World War I poster that encouraged Americans to adopt food preservation practices. The national message that focused on school, home and community gardens as well as food preservation and food conservation resulted in increased exports to America’s allies during wartime, and also in improved nutrition. Liberty Gardens – later Victory Gardens – became a national imperative.

The practices encouraged by the federal government during World War I were simple but effective: increase local food production, preserve some of what we grew, and also to try to reduce food consumption (consider Meatless Mondays). These measures worked.  And they make sense today.

Undoubtedly, some of you reading this post will be spending part of the long weekend putting up fruit and vegetables. It’s a good thing to do. To encourage you in your efforts, enjoy this WWI image. And pick up a copy of my book, “Sowing the Seeds of Victory”, to learn more about what was done then – and what we could do now, as individuals and a nation – to improve our food system.

“A Garden for Everyone. Everyone in a Garden.”