It started in World War I and was repeated in World War II – the “Victory Garden” or “War Garden” became a war-time necessity.
With war, food was in short supply. Demands of the war drew farmers and others into the direct war effort; munitions manufacturing drew others. People to produce food were in dwindling supply; likewise in transporting it.
In response, the National War Garden Commission was formed. Its sole aim was to get the attention, then help train people at home to put idle land to work and to conserve food by canning and drying.
“City Farmers” popped up, putting “slacker lands” (idle vacant lots in cities and communities) to productive use. Back yards and vacant lots were potential sources of food supply, and the raising of food on these areas would solve many problems besides that of food production.
Food raised at home was “Food FOB the Kitchen Door” – the challenges of transportation and distribution were automatically solved.
“One of the great values of the back lot garden is that its products are consumed where they are grown and thus transportation is conserved. Gardening is the extra war work of these who do it, no added strain is put upon the labor supply of the country.”
“Everything grown in war gardens is in addition to the normal food production, hence it releases pound for pound that much more food for our soldiers and our Allies. War gardens also reduce living expenses. Get a Victory Garden under way.” (Maui News, May 3, 1918)
Promotional posters helped spread the message, “Every Garden a Munition Plant,” “Sow the Seeds of Victory,” “Let’s Dig and Dig and We’ll be Big,” “War Gardens Over the Top” and “War Gardens Victorious” motivated the masses to participate.
“The hoe has become a weapon of war. … Saving food is one solution of the world shortage; substitution is another, but equally important is the spring edict from the US Department of Agriculture and the US Food Administration that the country must plant and produce more food tills year than ever before.”
“Every householder with even a little land to spare should buy a hoe. The hoe should become the symbol of a self-sustaining household as regards garden foods. Every bag of sweet potatoes or taro and every pound of beans, brought in from the back yard releases that much more for the current market and saves that much more to ship abroad. (The Garden Island, May 7, 1918)
“Put the slacker land to work” became a slogan of the National War Commission; at the overall national level, in response, in 1917 more than 3,000,000 pieces of uncultivated lots were put into production. The total number of war gardens in 1918 was conservatively estimated at 5,285,000.
The Second World War produced similar needs and demands.
Millions of people realized that they would never be able to take part as actual soldiers, but they wanted to take an active part in some effort which would show tangible results in the struggle for right and justice. War gardening offered the opportunity.
The war with Japan and evacuation and internment of Japanese created additional challenges. On the West Coast, Japanese farmers were responsible for 40 percent of all vegetables grown in California, including nearly 100 percent of all tomatoes, celery, strawberries and peppers.
In response to the significant labor shortages, “Victory Vacations” were proposed – proponents pointed out such vacations not only would be patriotic but would also be a matter of good health, through exercise and fresh air, and would pay those making the gesture definite cash returns. (San Francisco News, March 4, 1942)
In the United States, it was estimated that 20-million gardens were created during WWII, which produced an estimated 10 million tons of food. (Nagata)
“The people of Hawaiʻi are growing Victory Gardens, too, and it’s no hobby with them – it’s a serious business. … When the nearest market is about 2,415 miles away, you tend to your peas and beans with infinite care and wage determined warfare upon the bugs attempting to cheat you out of your earned greens.” (Eugene Register, June 18, 1942)
“Despite the fertility of the land there has been very little truck farming on the Islands. … The war changed all that.”
“There is hardly an earthen air raid shelter in town that isn’t sprouting lettuce or corn or a row or two of cabbage. The acreage devoted to school gardens alone has increased nearly 50 per cent and in all five districts of Honolulu, community gardens have been developed. … the city park board did its share by allowing home gardens to take over (some park land) … then supplied pipe for irrigation of the plots.”
Dr Armstrong (Director of Honolulu Victory Gardens and professor of Agriculture at UH) arranged a class in gardening fundamentals of agriculture to the initiates. … as soon as one class is graduated another is started. (Eugene Register, June 18, 1942)
As an example of change in agricultural activities, in 1939, only 75-acres in the Waimea, South Kohala area were devoted to agriculture. By the war’s end in 1946, that had increased to 518-acres. (Sperry)
It’s interesting, Hawaiʻi is the world’s most-isolated, populated-place; we are about: 2,500-miles from the US mainland, Samoa & Alaska; 4,000-miles from Tokyo, New Zealand & Guam, and 5,000-miles from Australia, the Philippines & Korea. And, we are dependent on outside sources for our food supply.
A couple years ago, we prepared a master plan for a proposed agricultural park; it focused on production of food for the local community. We were proud that the American Planning Association – Hawaiʻi Chapter gave it the “Innovation is Sustaining Places Award.”
In giving the Award, APA-Hawaiʻi noted, “The context in which the Master Plan was prepared, particularly in relation to the overall Agricultural Park management strategy, addresses strong and recurring themes of Tradition, Sustainability, Integrated Holistic Approach, Long-term Timeframe, Cooperation and Collaboration, Diversity of Foods and Economic Viability – melding Hawaiian traditional wisdom with modern sustainability concepts.”
“The APA Awards Jury felt the plan incorporates innovative concepts in agricultural park planning, especially in terms of the layout and design of the facility which includes the reuse of resources and farming best practices (that are) transferable to other facilities”.
“The inclusion of specific management strategies and actions to support the project mission and goals also helps to increase project success. The research on Hawaiian values, as well as coverage of topics such as permaculture, public health and local economic development, makes this plan comprehensive, ambitious and worthy of recognition.”
Adapting from a core theme of that plan, I think we are long overdue in addressing our Islands’ food security issues. We shouldn’t have to wait for another war to get us back to focusing on “Food From Hawaiʻi For Hawaiʻi.”