Rose Hayden-Smith • thevictorygrower.com

School Gardens

Uncle Sam Says “Garden”

Uncle Sam says “Garden”.
We need to listen to Uncle Sam.
An entire chapter of my book, “Sowing the Seeds of Victory” is dedicated to WWI poster art and propaganda. Chapter Four contains numerous poster images and a detailed analysis of each. One of my favorite images is this one – Uncle Sam Says Garden”  – produced by the USDA.
“Uncle Sam Says Garden” was a poster that was directed to a broader audience than some of the other gardening posters, which were directed to children. Produced in 1917, it shows Uncle Sam in the foreground, holding a hoe in one hand, and papers that read “City Gardens” and “Farm Gardens” in the other. These words are clearly meant to synthesize the interests of rural and urban Americans: gardening was a shared activity, a common national goal. A man and woman work in the garden shown, which is in the shape of the American flag. Some of the plants featured in the garden might appear to be stars upon the flag. The woman in the poster wears a long, red skirt and a white shirt; in her arm is something she has harvested from the garden.

A subtitle suggests that Americans might wish to garden in order to “cut food costs.” Those seeing the poster are urged to write to the USDA for a free bulletin on gardening, suggesting, “It’s food for thought.” The poster is framed by brown band, and the bottom right corner features a cluster of richly hued vegetables. Upon careful inspection, the background, featuring trees, actually bears a striking resemblance to leafy green vegetables and also to broccoli stems. The use of Uncle Sam in gardening posters was not as common as […]

The Fruits of Victory: Some Stats

This week, I found the Fruits of Victory in the form of tomatoes in a plot at the St. Paul’s Episcopal Church congregational garden in Ventura, California.

I receive a lot of pushback against my gardening message. In the face of overwhelming world challenges, gardening as a response seems mundane. Some people argue they can’t garden because of their geography. (I refer them to literature that teaches how you can extend the growing season, no matter where you live). There are lots of reasons to say “no” to school, home and community gardening efforts, but so many other reasons to say “yes”.

A new national Victory Garden campaign could be successful. I base this argument on the success of previous models in World War I and World War II.

At the outset of World War II, it was estimated that approximately 14.5 million Americans gardened.There is no consensus on the percentage of Americans who engaged in Victory Garden activity during World War II (as in World War I, government efforts to conflate participation figures make it difficult to assess real gardening activity).

However, there is a remarkably consistent degree of agreement among historians that World War II saw a significant increase in the consumption of fruits and vegetables on the American home front, in part because vegetables were not among rationed foods. The internment of American citizens of Japanese descent—many of them vegetable farmers—had a real (and certainly) unintended effect on home front vegetable production early in the war.

Victory Gardens helped make up some of that production gap. Before the end of 1943, it is estimated that there were as many as twenty million gardens in America, possibly producing 40 percent of the nation’s annual consumption of vegetables.This […]

Lemony Snicket: doomed to repeat history?

“Those unable to catalog the past are doomed to repeat it.” Yes, I’m quoting Lemony Snicket, (from the “A Series of Unfortunate Events” books). In the case of school, home and community gardens, repeating history might not spell doom. In fact, it would be a good thing. Gardening may seem to be an ordinary topic, too mundane and unchanging to have an impact on history. In my book, “Sowing the Seeds of Victory”, I argue that on the American home front during World War I, the call to gardening was new and distinctive, elevated to high public importance. I also make the argument that I believe the same thing is becoming true again today, as a new generation of food activists attempts to change the food system via gardening, urban agriculture, and through a variety of other means.

The WWI Liberty/Victory Garden programs, food conservation and preservation efforts, and school garden programs invited the nation’s citizens to create (or re-create) gardens as a way to recapture an earlier “golden age” in American experience (a golden age that may or may not ever have existed).

The imagery was of republican self-sufficiency, mutuality, and civic contribution. Some of these impulses are reflected in today’s movement. In WWI, gardens were an integral part of American life as a location of national identification and purpose, of synthesis between competing spheres (urban and rural, domestic and public, consumer and producer, immigrant and native-born) during a period of national transition and transformation. Should gardens occupy the same location today? YES (minus the military stuff).

Gardens were also intended to be a place of redemption from any number of ills that plagued American social and cultural life. (They still are). Those who sought to […]

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 […]

EarthEats: Interview

I was delighted to be interviewed by Annie Corrigan, producer of Earth Eats, which is run out of Indiana Public Media. Earth Eats – which has a website, blogs, podcasts, and a great social media presence – has become one of my new go-to sites for information about “real food and green living.” The topics are cutting-edge, relevant, provocative, often fun, and very well-covered.

Please read the interview, Liberty Gardens of World War 1 Updated for Today, and please be certain to follow Earth Eats for a big helping of food…for thought!

 

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The History of School Gardens: Part 2

School gardens were used in parts of Europe as early as 1811, and mention of their value precedes that by nearly two centuries. Philosophers and educational reformers such as John Amos Comenius and Jean-Jacques Rousseau discussed the importance of nature in the education of children; Comenius mentioned gardens specifically. The use and purpose of school gardens was multifold; gardens provided a place where youth could learn natural sciences (including agriculture) and also acquire vocational skills. Indeed, the very multiplicity of uses and purposes for gardens made it difficult for gardening proponents to firmly anchor gardening in the educational framework and a school’s curriculum; it still does.

School gardens have been around for a long time, and their history matters today. The founder of the kindergarten movement, Friedrich Froebel, used gardens as an educational tool. Froebel was influenced by Swiss educational reformer Johann Pestalozzi, who saw a need for balance in education, a balance that incorporated “hands, heart, and head,” words and ideas that would be incorporated nearly two centuries later into the mission of the United States Department of Agriculture’s 4-H youth development program.  Gardens required all three of these things; for this and other reasons, Froebel advocated for school gardens during the course of his life.

Late 19th century educators such as Maria Montessori and John Dewey built upon educational theories espoused by these earlier philosophers and reformers and extended them. Both Montessori and Dewey spoke specifically about gardening and agricultural education for youth.  They both saw the acquisition of practical (i.e., vocational) skills as only part of the value of gardening experiences.

In both World War I and II, the United States also sought to encourage youth to express their love of country and commitment […]

The Victory Garden: A Brief History from the Victory Grower

I collect gardening catalogs.  To me, they represent life and productivity and the promise of family, good food and good health. BUT…

I also study and write about Victory Gardens. Because Victory Gardens, like gardening catalogs, also provide a link to a simpler, agrarian past that I find comforting and restorative in these unsettling times.  In a world where food prices are skyrocketing, violence seems unchecked, compassion towards the less fortunate seems to have evaporated and economic misery abounds, I find gardens of all sorts a refuge of optimism.  We need fewer bad things in this world and more good gardens. In hard times, Americans have always turned to gardening.  The Victory Gardens of World War I and World War II – and the garden efforts of the Great Depression – helped Americans weather hard times. These school, home and community gardens helped the family budget; improved dietary practices; reduced the food mile and saved fuel. They also enabled America to export more food to our allies; beautified communities; empowered every citizen to contribute to a national effort; and bridged social, ethnic, class and cultural differences during times when cooperation was vital. Gardens were an expression of solidarity, patriotism, and shared sacrifice.  They were everywhere…schools, homes, workplaces, and throughout public spaces all over the nation. No effort was too small. Americans did their bit. And it mattered.  We were a nation of Victory Growers, and it had far-ranging implications in many aspects of American social, cultural and political life. (And all of these things could be true again today. In many places, Victory Growers are at work, making these things come true). Consider this: In WWI, the Federal Bureau of Education rolled out a […]