Victory Gardens Were More About Solidarity Than SurvivalHistorians in the News
tags: World War 2, Homefront
In the latest article from “Beyond the World War II We Know,” a series from The Times that documents lesser-known stories from World War II, we recount the history of victory gardens and some of the misconceptions of how they emerged after the United States joined the conflict.
Of all the celebrated nostalgic markers of World War II, few are as memorable as America’s victory gardens — those open lots, rooftops and backyards made resplendent with beets, broccoli, kohlrabi, parsnips and spinach to substitute for the commercial crops diverted to troops overseas during the war.
The gardens were strongly encouraged by the American government during World War I as part of the at-home efforts, yet they became immensely more popular with the introduction of food rationing during the Second World War as processed and canned foods were shipped abroad.
It’s often said that this later era of victory gardens emerged out of grass-roots collective action to prevent the risk of running out of food, which was already hurting countries all over Europe. Despite the millions of pounds of food being diverted from American kitchen tables for the war effort, there was little threat of citizens going hungry. Rather, the victory-garden movement was driven much more by government and corporate messaging meant to invoke American solidarity.
“Americans like to portray that they worked hard and would have starved had they not gardened,” said Allan M. Winkler, a distinguished professor emeritus of history at Miami University of Ohio. “Victory gardens were a symbol of abundance and doing it yourself, but that was more symbolism than reality.”
Nearly two-thirds of American households participated in some form of national harvest; even Eleanor Roosevelt planted a victory garden on the White House lawn. By 1943, close to 20 million families planted seven million acres of gardens across the United States, producing more than 15 billion pounds, or roughly 40 percent, of the fresh produce Americans consumed that year.
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