V is for Victory (Garden)

This year marks the centennial anniversary of the start of WWI, which lasted from July 28, 1914 through Armistice Day, November 11, 1918.

From the seeds of difficult wartime circumstances, the idea of victory gardens took root and bloomed. These vegetable, fruit, and herb gardens were planted at private residences and in public parks throughout the U.S., U.K., Canada, and Germany. Not only did the victory gardens reduce pressure on the public food supply, but gardeners – including children – felt empowered by their contributions and rewarded by the food they grew.

Victory“Food will win the war.” – President Woodrow Wilson

During the first few years of WWI, food production fell dramatically as resources (labor, finances, time) were diverted to aid in the war effort. In March 1917 – weeks prior to the United States entering the war – millionaire businessman and philanthropist Charles Lathrop Pack organized the U.S. National War Garden Commission and launched the war garden campaign, with the idea that the food supply could be greatly increased through grassroots, at-home means. His colorful campaign (see poster) promoted the cultivation of private and public lands, resulting in over five million gardens throughout the United States.

“Every boy and girl who really sees what the home garden may mean will, I am sure, enter into the purpose with high spirits…. 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.”- President Woodrow Wilson

In a further move to support the home garden effort and boost morale, the Bureau of Education launched the U.S. School Garden Army (USSGA), funded by the War Department at President Wilson’s direction. Its motto was: A garden for every child, every child in a garden.

The target audience of this program was urban and suburban boys and girls (ages 9 through 15) and their teachers. The curriculum included: growing vegetables from seed, growing flowers, building hotbeds and coldframes, organic matter and soil health, regional guides and more. There was a victory garden, for example, on the south side of Kennedy School (where the gym and English Wing stand today).

From Victory Gardens to Community Gardens and Beyond

Since the turn of the 21st century, a renewed interest in victory gardens has sprouted and flourished. Today, you can easily find community gardens in public spaces. In March 2009, First Lady Michelle Obama planted an 1,100-square-foot “Kitchen Garden” on the White House lawn, the first since Eleanor Roosevelt’s WWII garden, to raise awareness about healthy food.

victoryPortland Parks & Rec’s Community Gardens program has provided gardening opportunities since 1975. There are 50 community gardens located throughout the city, developed and operated by volunteers and PP&R staff, offering a variety of activities. The urban oasis called Kennedy Community Garden (shown here) is found on NE 35th and Jessup, directly behind the Kennedy School. 

And in the newly acquired Pig Farm property across the street to the north of Edgefield, a county-funded program called CROPS (Community Reaps Our Produce and Shares),founded in 2009, provides volunteers as well as those in the justice system with the opportunity to cultivate the land for the greater good. According to its website: “The CROPS farm has yielded thousands of pounds of organic produce for hundreds of low-income Multnomah County residents. Labor for the farm is provided by volunteers through Hands On Greater Portland and the county’s Alternative Community Service Program through the Department of Community Justice. The harvest is then distributed to those in need by the Oregon Food Bank.” This program will continue as McMenamins begins to develop the property in the coming years.

While these gardens may not be in the exact same locations as the original WWI (and WWII) victory gardens, the sentiment with which people attend to them is the same: “Assuredly tall oaks from little acorns grow.” – Charles Lathrop Pack.

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