I’ve been a member of the three-acre Tommy Thompson Community Garden in Burlington’s Intervale for close to forty years. That’s not a long time when studying the history of community gardening in the U.S. and England. When I lived in England in 1979, I saw thousands of community gardens next to the railroad tracts. They were called allotment gardens. s.
In the UK, allotments are plots of land which you rent from the local council whose sole purpose is for growing produce. In North America, the concept is similar — it’ s just more widely known as a community garden. You can also find individual or shared plots with friends to grow your own fruits, veggies, and more.
When the United States entered World War I in 1917, a need for food, rather than education, became the primary motivation for cultivating community gardens. Europe was in the midst of a food shortage. To increase exports, the national War Garden Commission called on citizens to become “soldiers of the soil” by planting “liberty gardens” or “war gardens” to meet some of their domestic need for food. Gardening became a patriotic act. By the end of WWI, more than 5.2 million new gardens were planted.
The “Liberty Gardens” were promoted at home, schools and at work as a way to secure the national food supply. Americans were encouraged to grow more fruits and vegetables locally as a way to reduce food miles so that trains could move troops and materials instead. Additionally this freed up agricultural products that could be shipped to our allies in Europe. This call to patriotism served to unify a diverse population under one goal of assuring allied victory.
Just ten days after the bombing of Pearl Harbor the USDA convened a National War Garden Defense Conference to organize the WWII “Victory Garden” program, which became one of the most iconic wartime mobilization efforts in either war. This time Americans were encouraged to garden more for unity and service to the nation as a morale booster for troops and those at home. Although the food supply was secure, this effort was about improving American health and lifestyle and reconnecting Americans to the land.
That sentiment has never been more important today as we battle obesity, try to encourage a healthy lifestyle, engage the community and strive to protect the environment. Go online for the classic “Vintage Victory Garden Posters.”
Ron Krupp is the author of The Woodchuck’s Guide to Gardening, The Woodchuck Returns to Gardening and his forthcoming book called The Woodchuck’s Guide to Ornamentals & landscape Plants.