War Gardens: Over the Top Victory
Planting a garden became a way of expressing patriotism while, at the same time, feeding families.
Image courtesy Marilynn Stewart/www.EarthlyPursuits.com
I’m told that war bonds I must buy, in twos and fours and dozens,
Enough to make a full supply for all my aunts and cousins.
For war stamps, too, those signs of thrift, I dig into my pocket,
to give Uncle Sam a lift in cleaning up his docket.
But I’ve no kick for those who come with all their pleas beguiling.
It never makes me sad nor glum. They always find me smiling.
I know that I’m too old to fight; I can’t be caught re-nigging.
So I regard it just and right that I should keep on digging.
– “Let’s Dig & Dig & We’ll Be Big”
Even before the United States entered World War I, Europe had a crisis on its hands. The year 1916 had been one of the most disastrous agricultural years the world had ever known. Two years earlier, 20-30 million men all across Europe had left their farms to soldier. This massive deployment caused a critical shortage of workers of the land.
Prior to this, the Entente nations of Europe had developed a fine cooperative system for feeding their masses. Germany provided sugar to England; Russia sent its wheat to Italy. With the outbreak of the war, however, this joint effort was thrown completely out of kilter, and citizens found themselves subsisting hand-to-mouth.
So dire did the situation become that the entire continent resorted to meatless days. Those of the lower class lived primarily upon wheat, breads or pastas, and even that was sometimes reduced to as little as 7 ounces per person each day.
In England, dairy products became so scant that cream could only be procured with a physician’s certificate. Sugar usage dropped from 93 pounds per year to 24. Italy banned the sale of macaroni, and eggs, milk and butter were a luxury.
The effect of this blight on humankind was also felt in the United States. Not only were Americans short on food, with surpluses down by hundreds of millions of bushels due to massive crop failures, but they had pooled their resources with Europe. Since crops took months to years to provide, something had to be done – and quickly!
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