In April of 1917 the US had entered World War I and there were real fears of major food shortages both at home and on the frontlines.
And though the illustrations were incredibly cute, the wording was serious:
“Prevention of widespread starvation is the peacetime obligation of the United States. The War Garden of 1918 must become the Victory Garden of 1919.”
Early in the twentieth century, the nation was facing hard times, the effects of the Great Depression were still being felt, Europe and Asia erupted into war, and victory gardens came back into fashion. With fresh fruits and vegetables in short supply, food needed to be rationed and the government ultimately turned to the citizens to do their part to keep the nation fed. Families on the home front were encouraged to “put their idle land to work” and to once again produce “victory” gardens to combat the food shortage.
Slogans such as “Dig for Victory,” “Sow the Seeds of Victory,” and “Uncle Sam Says, ‘Garden to Cut Food Costs’” covered pamphlets. People quickly realized it was their national duty to participate. It worked too, in 1943, nearly forty percent of all fruits and vegetables grown in the US were grown in victory gardens. There were gardens planted in backyards, empty lots, and on the top of city rooftops. Neighbors and communities worked together and formed co-ops. An estimated 20 million victory gardens were planted, with about 10 million tons of fruits or vegetables harvested. Even Eleanor Roosevelt took part by planting her own victory garden on the lawns of the White House in 1943.
The victory garden idea resonates again today as trips to the grocery store become fraught with fears of coronavirus exposure, and shoppers worry that industrial agriculture could fail them during a pandemic, or that panic buying will lead to chronically empty store shelves.
Right now, with all that is going on, we could all use a break from stress, worries and anxiety. So, grab your garden gloves and head out to the yard. For generations gardeners have known that planting, watering, weeding, and all the beauty that emerges as a result is good for you. And science is catching on, too, with numerous studies showing that gardening can improve your physical and emotional well-being and has social benefits as well. Whether it’s a few plants in the windowsill, containers on a deck, beds and borders in the yard or a vegetable plot, gardens big and small can reap big benefits for you, your family, and yes, even our country.
We’re fascinated by nature and this curiosity can help us better cope with life’s challenges. In fact, one study showed that engaging with a garden distracts us from our worries and stops us from obsessing about the world’s problems. Over 12 weeks, participants saw an improvement in the severity of their depression during and immediately after the gardening study, and three months later, they still reported significant improvements!
Japanese researchers discovered that spending 30 minutes in the woods could not only lower stress levels but could also improve heart rates and blood pressure. Similarly, another study showed that after just 30 minutes of gardening, participants’ stress levels dropped, and their moods were boosted by the activity.
The takeaway? Spending just half an hour with your hands in the soil, surrounded by the bounty that nature offers, can provide serious benefits for your body, mind and overall health.
While it’s great to listen to suggestions and advice from experienced “green thumbs,” this garden needs to be all about you. No, you don’t need a specific type of shoes or apron to do this. Yes, starting with a few potted plants on your porch counts. Gardening is an escape and a hobby, so as soon as it starts feeling like a chore, simplify!
When you step out to your garden, give yourself permission to leave the world behind. Thirty minutes from now, everything will be right where you left it. You’ll devote more than enough hours to texting, emails and social media throughout the rest of your day. When it’s time to weed, plant, and harvest, allow yourself to slow down and disconnect.
Rather than dwelling on the challenges of a self-isolation or the lengthy to-do list waiting for you, give yourself permission to live in the moment. Notice the birds chirping, the ladybug on a leaf, or the gentle breeze in your hair.
During this time of national emergency, and social distancing, consider planting a garden. As an added benefit, if you grow fruits and vegetables, you’ll have fresh produce to enjoy, and I guarantee no salad will taste better than the one you grow yourself.
It’s a great idea, it’s something past generations always did in times of turmoil and stress. It’s something we unquestionably should consider. Even if you’ve never had a green thumb, give it a try. Set aside 30 minutes, start small and see what happens. You might be surprised by how much you enjoy it and how much better you feel.