Many people are tending to their gardens again as spring flourishes after the long and stressful winter hibernation. Maybe you’re thinking of starting your own backyard garden or even a potted kitchen/porch garden. But what does this have to do with so-called ‘victory gardens,’ which were popular back in the first half of the 20th century, and how could they apply to the current COVID-19 pandemic?
Victory gardens were vegetable, fruit, and herb gardens strongly encouraged by the Canadian and American governments during the World Wars to supplement rations and boost morale. People focused on staple foods that could be grown with minimal effort, including beans, beets, cabbage, carrots, kale, lettuce, peas, tomatoes, turnips, squash, swiss chard, pit fruits, and basically any other thing that could be consumed immediately or preserved for the off-season. Some families even kept chickens in their backyards for collecting eggs.
Under the Canadian Ministry of Agriculture’s 1917 campaign “A Vegetable Garden for Every Home,” municipalities, private owners of vacant lots, and small grassroots organizations across the country, like the Community Garden League of Greater Montreal (CGLGM), offered land to gardeners for a small fee or for free to families with an unemployed head of household, providing support and accessibility to wider audiences. The CGLGM also arranged canning of surplus food for the off-season and hosted competitions and garden shows.
During WWII, the movement coincided with campaigns for a healthy diet, such as Canada’s newly created Official Food Rules in 1942, the precursor to Canada’s Food Guide. Not only did victory gardens serve as sources of nutritious food, but they provided a form of respite against the stresses of wartime. While struggling to participate or help on the home front, people felt empowered by an ability to simply sow seeds. Gardens were the perfect way to connect with family and community members, supplement weekly menus, and act in solidarity with troops overseas.
At their height in 1944, there were around 209,200 victory gardens in Canada, producing 57,000 tons of produce. In the United States, 20 million families planted more than 7 million acres of gardens and cultivated 7,500,000 tons of produce, or 40% of the fresh produce that Americans consumed that year.
During the age of the pandemic, many have turned towards similar gardens for a multitude of reasons. A way to get outside, a distraction, a stress reliever, less trips to the grocery store, smaller grocery bills, bonding time with family (or the opposite if one wants some much-needed alone time), for an activity with visible, tangible results, and more!
As we face problems like quarantine fatigue and anxiety, global warming, erratic weather, or shaky economies (and the list just seems to go on and on), think of planting a home garden that provides entertainment, relaxed responsibility, routine, gratification, and an added layer of security in such insecure times.
For more info, visit these sites:
A comprehensive guide to growing your own victory garden! - https://learn.eartheasy.com/articles/victory-gardens-are-back-heres-how-to-plant-yours/
An article by the McGill library on victory gardens in Montreal! - https://libraryguides.mcgill.ca/c.php?g=632620&p=5002454
McGill Archives collection for the Montreal Parks and Playground Association/Community Garden League of Greater Montreal - documents and info from the early 20th century! - https://archivalcollections.library.mcgill.ca/index.php/montreal-parks-and-playgrounds-association-community-garden-league-of-greater-montreal-fonds
A piece on gardening during the quarantine
by the New York Times! - https://www.nytimes.com/2020/04/15/magazine/gardening-quarantine-coronavirus.html