“There is nothing new except what has been forgotten.” Rose Bertin
The year is 1917. Woodrow Wilson is President of the United States. After more than 2 1/2 years of intense fighting, the Great War rages on, and the food supplies of Europe are at a critical low. Farms have long since been stripped of their male workers, and the farms of so much of France and the low countries lay in waste. Rationing isn’t enough. With large swaths of Europe on the verge of famine, creative solutions are being sought.
Charles Lathrop Pack (1857-1937) was a successful 3rd generation timberman, and one of the 5 wealthiest men in America prior to World War I. He served as president of the American Forestry Association, one of the principal advocates of the early forest conservation movement, and later founded the American Tree Association, contributing some of his millions to further research in forestry and forest education.
In March of 1917, some weeks before the US entered the war, Pack organized the US National War Garden Commission, to encourage men and women on the homefront to contribute directly to the war effort by converting urban spaces into productive gardens and mini-farms. Published after the war in 1919, this is the story of the movement he founded. Detailing both food production and food preservation methods, part narrative and part instruction manual, this classic little book is as timely now as it was 100 years ago.
Initially referred to as War gardens, the name was changed to Victory gardens after the conflict had ended. This name was revived with the onset of World War II when, once again, food production would become critical to the war effort.
From the first chapter:
“The war garden was a war-time necessity. This was true because war conditions made it essential that food should be raised where it had not been produced in peace times, with labor not engaged in agricultural work and not taken from any other industry, and in places where it made no demand upon the railroads already overwhelmed with transportation burdens.
“Before the people would spring to the hoe, as they instinctively sprang to the rifle, they had to be shown, and shown conclusively, that the bearing of the one implement was as patriotic a duty as the carrying of the other. The idea of the “city farmer” came into being. The creation of an army of soldiers of the soil presented much the same difficulties presented by the creation of any other army. First of all there was the matter of recruiting. This was a purely volunteer movement and all recruits must come through voluntary enlistment. Then it was necessary to point out the importance of the work and to create enthusiasm for gardening. Next, it was necessary to train the recruits. Intelligent instruction had to be furnished, for many of these new soldiers of the soil had never before handled a hoe or a garden fork. So unexpectedly great was the response to the campaign that it proved essential to turn attention to the matter of food conservation, to the preservation of surplus products which the garden campaign had brought into being.”
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