During the Second World War the United States (and other European nations) experienced significant food shortages, as the majority of the country’s food supply was being sent overseas to aid in the war effort. In response, government organizations encouraged citizens to plant “victory gardens” to help ease the burden. U.S. President Woodrow Wilson said “Food will win the war,” and launched through the Bureau of Education a United States Garden Army. The program, funded by the War Department, began in 1943 and urbanites living in New York City collectively grabbed their shovels to adorn the bare concrete streets with a far more plentiful kind of landscaping.
In total, the city had roughly 400,000 victory gardens occupying 600 acres of private land. As hard as it may be to believe today, there was a victory garden planted along Park Avenue, while another one flourished uptown on Riverside Drive. A third sizable garden was located in Midtown, spreading is leaves in the shade of the Chrysler Building.
The effort spanned across all boroughs and urban gardens popped up wherever there was space, including in empty lots on Ludlow Street, Upper East Side apartment terraces, and open spaces throughout Queens and Brooklyn.
It was recorded by Amy Bentley and Daniel Bowman Simon in their book about victory gardens, Savoring Gotham: A Food Lovers Companion to New York City, that New York’s amateur farmers yielded 200 million pounds of vegetables—the largest being tomatoes, followed by beans, beets, carrots, lettuce, and Swiss chard.
In addition to growing food, victory gardens provided the added benefits of boosting morale and creating communities throughout the United States.
Images courtesy of the Library of Congress
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