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Victory Gardens Handbook pages 6-7


Gardening e-book:
War Gardens, Victory Gardens




Americans Traditionally Use Too Few Vegetables

  As to vegetables, colonial writings include some references to turnips, peas, and beans; but only the last two were grown chiefly for human consumption, for which both were matured and dried. Of the native American vegetables grown and used freely by Indians, beans apparently were adopted directly by English colonists, and these came into general use in a short time; squashes and potatoes were grown generally in Europe about as soon as they were in America; tomatoes were introduced to the northern colonists by the French settlers in the southern part of the country as early as 1750 but were not accepted generally until after 1835. Sweet corn is about the only one exclusively adopted by Americans; they obtained field corn from the Indians, and there is evidence that sweet corn appeared as a natural variant in a Yankee cornfield.

  The attitude of the early American toward vegetable production is inferred very bluntly by William Cobbett, in the preface to his book, "The American Gardener," written in 1819: "The object [of the book] evidently is to cause the art of gardening to be better understood and practiced than it now is in America; and, very few persons will deny, that there is, in this case, plenty of room for improvement. America has soil and climate far surpassing those of England, and yet she is surprisingly deficient in variety as well as quality of garden products. I am not alluding to things of ornament, or appertaining to luxurious enjoyments, but to things that are really useful, and that tend to profit and to the preservation of health, without which latter, life is not worth having."

  Vegetables for sale, other than potatoes, were recorded in the census of the United States for the first time in 1850, when the farm value of the commercial crop in the United States was stated as a little over five million dollars. For a population of 23 millions, this represents an annual commercial production of less than 25 cents worth for each person.

  Fifty years later, in 1900, the total value of vegetables grown for sale, other than potatoes and sweet potatoes, was reported to be $74,000,000 and that of vegetables grown on farms for home use was $46,500,000. Potatoes and sweet potatoes brought the farm value of all vegetables to $242,200,000 or an annual value of $3.19 per person for a population of 76 millions; for vegetables other than potatoes, the value per person was half as much, or $1.59.

  The average annual consumption of fresh vegetables, including potatoes and sweet potatoes, per person during the five years from 1937 to 1941 inclusive, was 298.9 pounds, with a farm value of slightly over $3.11. This relatively small value, in comparison with 1900, was due to the lower prices of vegetables in the later years; it represents a return to commercial vegetable growers of less than one cent a day for each person in the nation's population.

  If the retail value of vegetables is approximately three times the farm value, the average American actually spent only slightly more than two and one-half cents a day for vegetables, including potatoes, from 1937 to 1941. If the expenditure was slightly greater in 1943, it was so mainly because prices were higher.

View of 80 community Victory Gardens at Seneca, Pennsylvania

Part View of Eighty Community Victory Gardens at Seneca, Pennsylvania,
Sponsored by the Oil City Victory Garden Committee


cover of Victory Gardens Handbook of the Victory Garden Committee
click for larger photo

Victory Gardens
Handbook of the
Victory Garden Committee
War Services, Pennsylvania
State Council of Defense

April, 1944


page v
page vi
page vii