Victory Gardens (8/9/2019)

During World War II FFA and 4-H members grew Victory Gardens. In this Friday Footnote, we will learn more about Victory Gardens. We have a team of North Carolina State students and faculty as guest authors for this Footnote. Emma Cannon (grad student), Victoria Brewer (Chatham County 4-H agent), Dr. Barbara Kirby (Professor) and Dr. Joy Morgan (Assistant Professor) combined their talents to produce this Footnote. So take it away team.


If you are like me, you may have spent the past few weeks harvesting, shelling, shucking, freezing, and canning vegetables. As I shelled peas last night, I immediately thought about the times before the big grocery store chains providing a quick stop in to pick up the can of peas or corn. For most American families in the early 1900’s, home gardens were a necessity for food on the table. During World War I and World War II, home gardens and community gardens played a bigger role than just providing food for the family but took on a bigger fight against battling food insecurity.

These gardens known as “Victory Gardens” were first developed in the United States (U.S.) in 1917, in an effort to alleviate the severe food shortage experienced in Europe during World War I. Following the end of World War I, the promotion of Victory Gardens stopped; however, many Americans continued their efforts. In 1942, Victory Gardens reemerged as the U.S. entered World War II. Once again, Americans were called to action and the response was monumental. In this Footnote we’ll take a closer look at World War II Victory Gardens.

The War Garden Movement – Victory Gardens during World War II

“ Sow the Seeds of Victory”…. “Dig on for Victory”….. “Your Victory Garden Counts more than Ever”. Posters with sayings similar to the words above strived to promote victory gardens as they returned in the spring of 1942, shortly after the U.S. entered World War II. During World War II, 16 million Americans were enlisted in the U.S. Armed Forces.  Restrictions on imported foods, limitations of goods, and agricultural harvests were being sent to soldiers overseas instead of consumed stateside.

An example of a Victory Garden Poster (the were many different ones)

The government encouraged citizens to grow War Gardens and thus the term Victory Gardens was coined. The return of these gardens was not in response to a severe food shortage, but rather as a proactive way to ensure the famine experienced during World War I did not occur again. Once again, Americans demonstrated tremendous support for this war garden movement and in 1942, roughly fifteen million families planted Victory Gardens. By 1944, an estimated twenty million victory gardens produced roughly eight million tons of food (Schumm, 2014).

A 1942 neighborhood Victory Garden in Chicago

Americans found a variety of locations to grow their victory gardens, including small flower boxes, backyards, apartment rooftops and deserted lots. Even some window boxes were converted from flowers to vegetables. Communal gardens were planted in parks and vacant lots and baseball fields.  Sites for these gardens included San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park, the Portland Zoo in Oregon, and Boston’s Copley Square and Fenway Victory Gardens.  The Fenway site is still an active Victory Garden today (Sundin, 2019). One newspaper, the Women’s Wear Daily, reported in May 1942, that hotel patrons of the Lido Hotel and Beach Club could participate in cultivating the Victory Garden located on the grounds of the hotel (p.27). In addition, Eleanor Roosevelt planted a war garden on the grounds of the White House, and this action did not go without protest by the Department of Agriculture (Schumm, 2014a).

A Typical Victory Garden

Some of the new gardeners had never worked in agriculture before and that allowed the Cooperative Extension Service to lead the way.  Ira O. Schaub (Dean of Agriculture at NC State and Director of Extension) in his article, More Gardens for Victory (1943), explained that garden plots should be 1/10 of an acre for each member of the family. Each tenth of an acre should contain ten or more different kinds of vegetables with a focus on succession planting to best reap a larger harvest over time. Not only did Schaub list what types of plants to grow: green vegetables, yellow vegetables, dried peas, beans, and potatoes; he also listed the nutritional benefits of each type of vegetable. Some of the most popular produce grown included beans, beets, cabbage, carrots, kale, kohlrabi, lettuce, peas, tomatoes, turnips, squash, and Swiss chard.  In addition, planting schedules for different regions made this document easy to follow for new gardeners. By 1944, approximately 40% of all vegetables grown in the U.S. came from Victory Gardens.

A Victory Garden Guide from Illinois

Today one can visit the National Museum of American History and walk through what would have been a Victory Garden during World War II.  The vegetables showcased are the older heirloom varieties available to gardeners during World War II.  There is an exhibition in the museum that features Mary Scott and her family, occupants of the original house during the war.  The family contributed to the war effort by fighting in the Pacific and growing their own food. Visitors are able to view the kitchen she preserved all her vegetables grown in her Victory Garden and learn how she shopped with ration coupons. Visit the Museum at 

Government, Schools and Cooperative Extension

In addition to home gardens, the idea of having school gardens emerged with teachers working in cooperation with local county agricultural agent’s office. The government began looking into enlisting children into the army, not to be in battle, but to fight the war against food shortages. “Every boy and girl should be a producer. The growing of plants and animals should become an integral part of the school program. Such is the aim of the U.S. School Garden Army” (Hayden-Smith, 2006, p. 2). School gardens provided a great educational opportunity for students to contribute to the war garden movement. With 50,000 teachers involved a number of topics related to food production and preservation were taught, including choice of crops, layout, soil preparation and fertilizers, planting and care, and harvesting and preserving crops (Gabler, 1942). An important book that was still used by many during World War II, The Principles of Agriculture Through the School and Home Garden by Cyril A. Stebbins written in 1915 clearly linked school and home gardening (Hayden- Smith, 2006).

What Incentives, Themes and or Campaigns Were Used to Get Youth Involved

In 1914, Schaub wrote a procedure for 4-H Victory Garden Program instructing every club in North Carolina to participate.  He even named a Victory Garden Week during the first week of February despite colder temperatures and weather conditions. In another document which was written by Schaub as a guide to being “The Neighborhood 4-H Leader” (1914), he encouraged leaders to “believe in their club members and in the need for them to put forth every ounce of energy in helping to win the war by producing and conserving food.”

During World War II in 1942, 4-H began a few new programs to entice farm boys or girls with a competition to win $1- $250 through the “Food for Victory” program which offered war bonds or stamps for participating in the “Food for Freedom” extension program. Numerous posters, pamphlets, and brochures reinforced a theme of patriotic duty to serve the county and win the war through growing food.

Various pins and buttons were awarded to Victory Garden participants. Several are shown below. There was even a metal sign you could put on your gate (last item below). The Boy Scouts had a Victory Garden medal called the McArthur medal.

Kelly Holthus grew up on a farm outside Loomis, Nebraska, and was a young boy during the war. Yet, he was big enough to be put on a tractor. He said the following about Victory Gardens and his experience “Well, it was just very difficult to transport fruit and vegetables and everything. Most of it that was raised in California, or wherever they were raised, was going to the troops. So, we had to raise our own and bring it into the local grocery store…It was a great morale thing. And for young people like me, it was, you know, I could do my part. I was a part of the effort.” Hear his story at

What are Some Examples of 4-H and FFA Exemplary Efforts?

Building on the WWI efforts where 1,500,000 boys and girls responded to President Woodrow Wilson and enlisted in the United States School Garden Army and 20,000 acres were converted to gardens, many of those children knew how to garden and continued the campaign during WWII. The Future Farmers of America (FFA) answered the call to assist in the war effort. Members served in the armed forces, chapters raised funds to support the troops and helped produce the food and fiber that was so essential to winning the war effort.

During the 1942 FFA Convention, the Program of Work Committee recommended that “Producing Food for Victory” be one of the items in the National Program of Work. During the 1943 convention, A. W. Tenney the FFA Executive Secretary, reported that 111,261 acres had been planted in Victory Gardens by FFA Members.

Vocational Agriculture students in Hawaii planting a Victory Garden during World War II

4-H members were encouraged to display posters about their Victory Gardens. See a North Carolina display below. A 4-H member from Pennsylvania was pictured on the cover of the January 1944 4-H Club News with the 102 quarts of produce from his Victory Garden.

Dr. Clark W. Hanson, Professor Emeritus, Agricultural Education, SDSU and Gerri Ann Eide, Executive Director, South Dakota FFA Foundation, Inc. wrote the following about Agricultural Education and FFA during WWII in South Dakota: “While the offering of vocational agriculture classes declined during this period of time, South Dakota FFA members were patriotically active by collecting two million pounds of scrap iron, purchasing war bonds totaling $62,000 and planting 550 victory gardens.”

“The Contribution of the Canal Winchester F.F.A Chapter to the War Effort” was the subject of a Columbus OH radio program. Three FFA members and their advisor Mr. Ralph E. Bender from Ohio State presented the program. Their accomplishments included: 1) 28 boys of the F.F.A. produced over $42,300 worth of food products or enough food to keep 250 soldiers in rations for one year. The products include: 160,440 eggs, 226,126 lbs. of milk and 51,000 lbs. of pork. Chapter members also distributed 500 copies of the gardening guide,

Current Day Victory Garden

The “Garden Army,” a group of elementary school children, can be found on their school grounds every Wednesday afternoon planting, harvesting and caring for a large garden which resembles a World War I and World War II Victory Garden. Made possible with a Living to Serve grant, the Wakefield (NC) FFA Chapter members assist and introduce the Garden Army to growing food such as tomatoes, kale, sugar snap peas, cucumbers, watermelon, herbs and pollinator plants. In 2018, the Wakefield Garden Army was invited to the Governor’s Mansion to be recognized for their hard work.


During World War II, Americans took a proactive approach in an effort to prevent an extreme food shortage. Through this second war garden movement, schools created gardens and used it as a teaching tool for students. WWII “Food for Freedom” gardening campaign contributed not only to the war effort but also the goal of a healthier nation.

The war effort increased the visibility and underscored a purpose for agriculture education. 4-H, Cooperative Extension, & Agriculture Education joined forces to produce food for our troops, allies, and domestic needs, demonstrating “greater loyalty” by “living to serve.” Cooperative Extension & Agriculture Education impacted & educated over 1 million teachers, students, and 4-H members to combat food shortages.  Extension specialists and professors authored multiple books which became readily available for the use of instructing students and the public about gardening. America stepped up by participating in the war effort and victory gardens cultivated a new sense of patriotism in citizens that united them like never before.

Teaching Activities

  1. Research how many vegetables are consumed today? Where are the Farmer Markets in your community, county or state?
  2. Partner with an elementary or middle school and help grow a current day victory garden at the school.
  3. Design best practices pamphlets and marketing materials for your vegetable sales.
  4. If not from NC, who organized the School Garden Armies and Victory Gardens in your state? Did students and/or members of your FFA Chapter grow War or Victory Gardens? Describe your community’s involvement for Victory.
  5. Have your students make an electronic collection of Victory Garden posters. Which do they like best? Why? Have them design a new Victory Garden Poster.


Bender, R.E. (January, 1944). The Contribution of the Canal Winchester F.F.A Chapter to the War Effort. The Agricultural Education Magazine. 16 (7) 136-137

Gabler, Earl R. (1942, April). School Gardens for Victory. The Clearing House, 16(8), 469-472.  Retrieved from

Hanson, C. W. and Eide, G.A. SD Agricultural Education and FFA: The 1940s and World War II Impact. Inside Agriculture. Retrieved from   agricultural-education-and-ffa-the-1940s-and-world-war-ii-impact/

Hayden-Smith, R. (2006). America’s patriotic victory gardens. Soldiers of the soil: A historical review of the United States school garden army [monograph]. 4-H Center for Youth Development. Retrieved from Historical State Timelines. (n.d.) [Timeline by NCSU Libraries September 22, 2018].

Schaub, I. O. (1914). The 4-H Victory Garden. Retrieved from

Schumm, L. (2014, May 23). Food Rationing in Wartime America. Retrieved from

Sundin, Sarah. (2019). UC Master Gardner Programs of Sonoma County. Victory Gardens in World War II. Where Were Gardens Grown?  Retrieved from

Wolf, J. K., Connors, J. J. (2009). Winning the war: A historical analysis of the FFA during  World War II. Journal of Agriculture Education, 50, 112-121.