Posters From When Victory Gardens Helped Feed the World

It's spring, and it's a good year to think about Victory Gardens again.

Victory Garden Plot

Ohio History Connection

Climate Victory Gardens are described by Treehugger's Katherine Martinko as a way of "drawing down carbon from the atmosphere to boost mental resilience, offset rising food costs, and spend more time outside." But in these times, they serve a more traditional function: feeding families in a world of food shortages, rapidly rising costs, and increasing uncertainty. For many years we have shown posters from times when governments were promoting the idea that people should grow and preserve their own food, whether on their own property or on farms and allotments. Given the times, it seemed appropriate to dig into the files again.

Canada first world war posters

McGill Collection

Canada entered the Great War a few years before the U.S., so it got a head start in the poster biz, with Grandma showing Mom how it's done and the kids dragging Dad out to help.

US food Administration

US Food Administration

Once the U.S. went to war, Charles Lathrop Pack, described as "one of the five wealthiest men in America prior to World War I" organized the National War Garden Commission to get everyone to work, usually with the help of this unsmiling woman wrapped in a flag.

Pack marshalling the troops

National War Garden Commission

Here's Pack, marshaling his troops. "Uncle Sam expects every war garden to do its duty!"

Miss liberty canning

National War Garden Commission

Miss Liberty was like that modern stock photo person who gets used over and over. She was everywhere and she never smiled.

Uncle Sam steps in

US Department of Agriculture

Uncle Sam would step in and help the cause, and he didn't smile much either.

The Greatest Crime in Christendom

US Food Administration/ New York State Department of Health

Reducing waste is important; we still talk about it. But really, "The greatest crime in Christendom," wherever that is, is again a bit dire and a bit of an overstatement. But the small print at the bottom—"Eat less. Waste nothing. Live simply. Avoid food waste"—still resonates.

Dig for Victory

Imperial War Museums

In the Second World War, the ad people moved in, and everything got a lot more professional and upbeat, with people whistling while they work and smiles of satisfaction with a job well done on their faces. British posters were punchy and graphic.

Dig for victory

Imperial War Museum

According to the British Library, it is all still relevant.

"The 'Dig for Victory' campaign was set up during WWII by the British Ministry of Agriculture. Men and women across the country were encouraged to grow their own food in times of harsh rationing. Open spaces everywhere were transformed into allotments, from domestic gardens to public parks—even the lawns outside the Tower of London were turned into vegetable patches. Leaflets, such as the one shown here, were part of a massive propaganda campaign aiming both to ensure that people had enough to eat, and that morale was kept high. The current recession, as well as a new awareness of 'food miles' and climate change, has increased the demand for vegetable growing plots and the trend is supported by new, comparable government initiatives."

Plant a garden for Victory

Library of Congress

Americans soon caught on, with happy, smiling families going off to plant gardens for victory.

Grow Your Own to be sure!

War Food Administration

Grow your own to be sure!

can your own

UNT Digital Library

And then, of course, it all has to be processed and canned so we will have lots to eat this winter. Did it, and can it, still make a difference? According to Claudia Reinhardt, "The US Department of Agriculture estimates that more than 20 million victory gardens were planted. Fruit and vegetables harvested in these home and community plots was estimated to be 9-10 million tons, an amount equal to all commercial production of fresh vegetables. So, the program made a difference."

Early in the pandemic, Toronto author and food writer Lorraine Johnson called for everyone to tear up their lawns and plant victory gardens.

"The time is ripe to fill front yards with food, to discover that insects are necessary for pollination, and to see the connections between our gardens and the local ecology. Let’s grow tons of food. And let’s grow it so it gets to those of us who are most vulnerable and marginalized. Let’s grow a generation of kids who know where food comes from, who participate in producing some of it, and who thus become healthy eaters. Bonus: they’ll learn about nature."

eat your leftovers

Leftovers in the USA and the UK

There are additional bonuses today: we'll save money, we'll reduce the uncertainty of supply, we'll reduce the need for fuel and fertilizer. It's spring, and there has never been a better time. And don't forget to eat your leftovers!

View Article Sources
  1. Eyle, Alexandra. "Charles Lathrop Pack: Timberman, Forest Conservationist, and Pioneer in Forest Education." Syracuse, New York: Syracuse University Press, 1992.

  2. Schumm, Laura. "America's Patriotic Victory Gardens." History. 29 May 2014.

  3. Reinhardt, Claudia, "Victory Gardens." Living History Farm.

  4. Johnson, Lorraine. "Let's spark a city-grown food movement with a 'victory garden' revival." Toronto Star, 4 May 2020.