"Every Garden a Munition Plant"









 The Need of Making Every Garden a Munition Plant



he 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.
            The knowledge that the world faced a deficit in food, that there existed an emergency which could be met only by the raising of more food, was apparent to every well-informed and thinking man and woman during the early months of 1917.
            The author, wishing, as every patriot wished, to do a war work which was actually necessary, which was essentially practical, and which would most certainly aid in making the war successful, conceived the idea in March, 1917, of inspiring the people of the United States to plant war gardens in order to increase the supply of food without the use of land already cultivated, of labor already engaged in agricultural work, of time devoted to other necessary occupations, and of transportation facilities which were already inadequate to the demands made upon them.

            In March, therefore, some weeks before the United States entered the war, he organized for this work a commission known as the National War Garden Commission.
            What were the causes which led to the world’s lack of food and the need of a largely increased production by the United States to prevent world starvation?
            When the drums sounded the call to the colors in the summer of 1914, three million Frenchmen shouldered their rifles and marched away from a large proportion of the five million farms of France; and mostly there were one-man farms. Russia, a nation almost wholly agricultural, mobilized perhaps eight millions of men. All the men of fighting age in Belgium were summoned to the army. England, possessing only a “contemptible little arm,” straightway began a recruiting campaign which within a few years swelled the ranks of her military forces to five millions. Germany called out here entire fighting force of military age, an army of several millions. Austria, Bulgaria and Turkey likewise mobilized their full fighting forces. Altogether, twenty or thirty million men were called away from their usual pursuits. The vocation of the majority of them was farming. Thus, at one stroke, practically all the farms in the embattled nations were swept clear of male workers.

            At the same time the harvests were maturing or already ripe for the sickle; and over these laden acres swept the millions of soldiers, trampling, burning and destroying vast stores of food. In Belgium and France on the west front, and in Hungary, East Prussia, and Russia on the east, thousands upon thousands of crop-bearing acres were devastated and laid waste.
            In a few short weeks this was the situation: the food supply was largely decreased, vast areas of farming land were rendered unproductive, and the farms were practically stripped of their accustomed tillers. The world’s food supply was thrown entirely out of balance. Ordinarily the food-supply system was as nicely adjusted as the parts of a watch. Production was balanced against consumption. Given markets were supplied from given sources.
            So unfailing was this system that each of the belligerent nations absolutely depended upon other nations for certain parts of its food, and had received its expected supply as unfailingly as our daily milk and newspapers are delivered at our doors. Thus England procured most of her sugar from Germany, and Italy got wheat form Russia, by way of the Dardanelles. At one stroke, this nicely balanced system was destroyed.
            Worse than the wrecking of the system of distribution was the unbalancing of production itself. Millions of farms, stripped of their male workers, necessarily became either wholly unproductive or able to raise but a fraction of their normal output. In a moment’s time, as it were, the food production of Europe was lessened by millions and millions of bushels. Since food production is not, like Aladdin’s palace, the creation of a night, this inevitably meant a shortage in the world’s food supply. Before the European deficit could be made good by increased production elsewhere, months and perhaps years must elapse.

            Then came the submarine, further to complicate matters. By hundreds of thousands of tons the world’s shipping was sent to the bottom of the sea, so that in a short time the food situation wore an entirely new aspect. No matter what mountainous piles of provender might accumulate in the distant parts of the earth, it was not available for the nations at war. Ships could not be spared for long and distant voyages. If the 120,000,000 people of the Entente nations were to have food, if they were to procure enough to keep them from actual starvation, that food must come from the nearest markets. Only by sending their ships back and forth from these markets back and forth like shuttles in a loom, could food be transported rapidly enough to keep this great population from starvation. Prior to the war England had produced by one-fifth of her own food supply, France one-half of hers, and Italy two-thirds of what she consumed, and now their home production was fearfully decreased. The nearest possible markets where food could be produced were in North America, and principally in our own country. Thus the burden of feeding the Entente fell very largely upon the United States. Whether we wished to undertake the task or not, Fate had saddled the burden upon our backs.

War Garden Victorious - A First-Year War GardenA FIRST-YEAR WAR GARDEN
This plot, formerly a grass and weed overgrown tract, was cultivated by one of the employees of the Eastman Kodak Company, Rochester, New York, who organized a Home Gardeners' Association which was enthusiastically and patriotically supported. The work was encouraged by an exhibit of garden and canned products held by the company.

            This fact, however, was not patent immediately. At least it was glimpsed only by those of keen penetration. In every country there were some accumulated stores. These served to delay the approach of actual hunger. Then came the year, 1916, which was, agriculturally, the most disastrous year the world has known, in recent times. Crops failed everywhere. European production decreased terribly. Our own fell off by hundreds of millions of bushels. What as left of accumulated surpluses was eaten up. The great drain on our food resources wiped out our surpluses also, for, in effect at least, we had pooled our food resources with our fellows in Europe. Thus both Europe and American found themselves living a hand-to-mouth existence.
            It was barely an existence, at that – at least for our allies in Europe. So terrible had the food shortage there become that the daily rations had been cut to the minimum that would sustain life and strength. The peasant population of continental Europe, which means a large part of the people, lives principally upon wheat in one form or another. In France bread is literally the staff of life, normally constituting 52 per cent. of the Frenchman’s food. Yet the French bread ration was successively lowered until at one time it reached seven ounces a day per capita. In Italy, the sale of macaroni was entirely prohibited in certain districts, an the bread ration was cut to eight ounces a day. Hard-working laborers were allowed fifteen ounces. In both of these countries even the bread ration of the soldier was sharply reduced – a measure to which resort it had only in situations of direst necessity. Indeed, many well-informed persons attribute the disaster of 1917 on the Italian front to the lowering of morale consequent upon the cutting of the bread ration. The soldier well knew that if his food was cut his family must be well-nigh starving to death.

            All Europe had to resort to meatless days. French milk production, as early as 1916, had fallen off sixty per cent. Dairy products were so scarce in England that cream could be secured only upon a physician’s certificate declaring it necessary to the health of the recipient. Sugar consumption had to be rigidly restricted. The English, who before the war were the greatest users of sugar in the world, with an average consumption of something like ninety-three pounds a person a year, were restricted to twenty-six pounds per annum, and this ration was later cut to twenty-four pounds. The French were limited to thirteen pounds a year, and the sugar ration of the Italian was drastically cut to nine pounds a year. That is to say, persons of these nationalities were allowed to buy the quantities named when the foods were to be had, but often the food was not to be had. There were entire districts in France, for instance, where for days no bread at all was to be obtained and not much else. The actual consumption, therefore, was less than the ration allowed. Our own consumption, too, was sharply reduced. Through meatless and wheatless days our use of wheat and flesh was greatly lessened, while the high prices of butter, eggs,  milk and other foods very materially aided in cutting consumption generally.

Boston Common was credited with having one of the finest demonstration war gardens in the United States in 1918. This shows the quarter-acre section given over to potatoes, with Girl Scouts assisting in the cultivation. The gardens were planted by the Women's City Club, with experts on hand to give instruction and advice to visitors.

            Lessened consumption, however, was not enough. There had to be increased production. Obviously Europe could not raise any more food than it was raising. Since America was the only country from which it was possible for Europe to draw food, it became necessary that we should enlarge our yields. The children of Israel could not make bricks for Pharaoh without straw; and when we attempted to create food for famishing Europe we experienced similar difficulty, though our shortage was of man-power. For a decade or more there had been a tremendous exodus from our farms. Our farmers cried for help, but their cry went unheeded until we found ourselves facing hunger. Then it was too late. It would have been as easy to put Humpty Dumpty together again as to bring back to the farm the thousands of boys and men who had been lured away by high wages in town and factory. How enormous had been this exodus from the farms we cannot tell accurately; but we know, from surveys made by the state, that, a decade ago, Pennsylvania had 160,000 farm hands as against 80,000 in 1918; and that in New York State in 1918 there were 45,000 fewer farm hands than in 1917, and 40,000 fewer farm girls. Every agricultural section of the nation was short-handed. When the crisis came, when the production of more food was absolutely imperative if the forces fighting for freedom were not to be starved into surrender and submission, our farms were found stripped of helpers. Our agricultural system, weighed in the balance, was found wanting. The war drums which had called 3,000,000 men from the farms of France, had also created the lure of high wages in munition plants, and further robbed the farms of America. When the appeal went out to our farmers to produce more food they replied in a memorial to the President, that under existing conditions, the previous rate of production could hardly be maintained, let alone increased – a prophecy which later proved true.

            In the lexicon of the typical American there is no such word as “cannot.” Keen-eyed Americans who saw the situation as it really was, decided that if the mountain would not go to Mahomet, they would see that Mahomet went to the mountain. The mountain in this case was labor, and Mahomet the space necessary for the production of food. These men, with that vision without which the people perish, possessed imagination. They saw little fountains of foodstuffs springing up everywhere, and the products of these tiny fountains, like rain-drops on a watershed, uniting to form rushing streams which would fill the great reservoirs built for their compounding. The tiny fountains were innumerable back-yard and vacant-lot gardens. The problem was to create these fountains.

Every large community throughout the country contains hundreds of plots like this which can be turned into valuable gardens. This one is in the city of Rochester, New York, which had more than 15,000 war gardens in 1918. A big exposition was held in the Fall which attracted the interest of many thousands of people, not only in the city, but throughout that entire section of the state.

            This could be accomplished only the systematic education of the people, the one hundred million people of the United States. Such a huge educational campaign could be carried out only through the customary channels of publicity – the daily press, the periodicals, the bulletin-boards, and other usual avenues. Oddly enough, it is usually hardest to influence man for his own benefit. The matter of home food production was no exception to the rule. 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 a patriotic a duty as the carrying of the other. Only persistent publicity, only continual preachment, could convince the public of that. Hence it was necessary that the campaign of education be well-conducted and continuous. This called for the creation of an organization to back the movement and assure its standing. The author, therefore, realizing the need of developing latent resources of food supply, and after consultation with other men who were eager to do their duty in the circumstances, conceived and organized the Commission.
            This organization consisted of Charles Lathrop Pack, President, of New Jersey; Luther Burbank, California; P.P. Claxton, United States Commissioner of Education, Washington, D.C.; Dr. Charles W. Eliot, Massachusetts; Dr. Irving Fisher, Yale University, Connecticut; Fred H. Goff, Ohio; John Hays Hammond, Massachusetts; Fairfax Harrison, Virginia; Hon. Myron T. Herrick, Ohio; President John Grier Hibben, Princeton University, New Jersey; Emerson McMillin, New York; A.W. Shaw, Illinois; Mrs. John Dickinson Sherman, chairman of the Conservation Department of the General Federation of Women’s Clubs, Illinois; Capt. J.B. White, Missouri; Hon. James Wilson, former Secretary of Agriculture, Iowa; Assistant Secretary of Agriculture, Hon. Carl Vrooman, (for the year 1917); P.S. Ridsdale, Executive Secretary, who was also Executive Secretary of the American Forestry Association, with the Conservation Department of which the Commission was affiliated, and Norman C. McLoud, Associate Secretary.

            The sole aim of the National War Garden Commission was to arouse the patriots of America to the importance of putting all idle land to work, to teach them how to do it, and to educate them to conserve by canning and drying all food they could not use while fresh. The idea of the “city farmer” came into being. In every part of the country were communities where land and labor were already together, where it would be necessary to move neither the mountain nor Mahomet. Near every city were vacant lots, “slacker lands,” as useless as the human loafer, to whom, perhaps, Mahomet must be brought. Whether the land to be cultivated was a back yard or a vacant lot, it was a potential source of food supply, and the raising of food on these areas would solve many problems besides that of food production. Food raised by the householder in his yard or a new-by lot, was “Food F.O.B. the Kitchen Door.” There were no problems of transportation or distribution to be solved in such food production.
            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. As the campaign progressed it was found that the best results could be obtained by organizing communities. Hence it became necessary to outline methods for community organization. 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. The function of the Commission, therefore, was to awaken interest in both food production and food conservation and to provide instruction along each line of endeavor.

There were hundreds of men and women throughout the United States who had passed the three-score-and-ten mark who tilled and cared for their own garden plots. This is Lewis Hunt, of Pearl River, New York, eighty-one years of age, who on his half-acre back yard raised a large supply of vegetables, while his daughter canned the surplus for winter use.