Both the world wars made for the goriest chapters for modern History. Countless lives were lost, millions were displaced, and the world witnessed humanity at its worst. Food scarcity became a major challenge in Europe and America, especially during the second world war. It must be recalled that this was the time of massive unemployment and poverty too, it was already tough to afford a proper meal for the family, and with strict food rationing laws in place, the demands were much greater than the supply, further complicating the issue of food shortage. It was around this hostile time, that the idea of ‘Victory gardens’ or ‘war gardens’ took prominence.  

Private vegetable gardens or a means 'to boost morale'?

Civilians were encouraged to grow fruits, vegetables and herbs in private residences. Many public parks in the United States, United Kingdom, Canada, Australia and Germany were also studded with shrubs and plants that bore fruits, veggies and herbs. This not only helped people supplement their rations, but it was also viewed as a means ‘to boost morale’ of the soldiers on the front. The governments called it an act of showing solidarity, several posters and stamps were also rolled out to boost the growth of these gardens. Not only were these gardens indirectly aiding the food crisis, but also helped lift the spirits of people in such grim times.

How these gardens indirectly helped the food shortage crises in wartime?

“In Britain, even before rationing officially started, The Ministry of Agriculture launched its “Dig for Victory” campaign”, notes the book ‘The Story of Food: An Illustrated History of Everything We Eat’, by DK Publishing.  While people were urged to turn their gardens into vegetable plots, “even the moat of the Tower of London was drained and planted with vegetables”, the book further notes.  

Calling it a “massive success”, the book further mentions that “By 1943, it was estimated that home vegetable gardens were producing more than a million tons of produce.” Alongside vegetables, many also farmed chickens, eggs, ducks, and rabbits for meat.  

‘Victory Gardens’ were already a hit concept in the United States of America during World War 1, but it was its reappearance in 1942, close on the heels of the introduction of food rationing, that showed that people were willing to do all it took to stay alive and get a day’s meal. Americans had an even greater “urge” to grow their own food, the book notes. By 1944, 20 million such gardens were producing 9-10 million tonnes of food a year.