Victory Gardens

View item information

"Belgian relief ship SS Lynorta leaves Boston with food for starving Belgians," April 1915. In 1914, Belgium imported seventy-five percent of its food. After the war broke out, the country found itself starving. Before Herbert Hoover took over the US Food Administration, he organized the Commission for Relief in Belgium. Under his leadership, over five million tons of food, much the bounty of war gardens, was shipped to civilians in Belgium. Here, one such ship leaves a Boston port. Courtesy of the Boston Public Library, Leslie Jones Collection via Digital Commonwealth.

The agricultural scene in Europe had turned bleak by 1917, with conflict ravaging farmlands and international transport stymied by German U-Boats targeting shipping lanes. Natural conditions made matters worse, bringing worldwide crop failures.

In early 1917, even before the United States had declared participation in the War, timberman Charles Lathrop Pack advanced the idea of “war gardens” to help augment food production and increase food supply for those at home and the Allied nations abroad. As organizer of the National War Garden Commission, he argued that the increase in production of food at home could free up those in food transport or food sales and send more Americans in these roles abroad. President Wilson seconded this call for service, imploring all those with gardens or unused back lots to do their part to help in the war effort and announcing that “food will win the war.”

Citizens were encouraged through pamphlets and posters to use their own gardens as contributions to “victory” by producing more food, and to “put the slacker land to work,” thereby taking advantage of open, unused, or recreational land as a location for more gardens. Creators of these victory gardens were also educated in canning and otherwise preserving excess food that could not be consumed while fresh.