During two world wars, citizens around the globe became farmers. Their so-called “victory gardens” added to food supplies and bolstered wartime morale. Today, many Americans have returned to those gardening roots. They’re fighting another kind of war. But the enemy isn’t a foreign power. It’s a virus.
During World Wars I and II, posters proclaimed “Food will win the war” and “Our food is fighting.” How? America sent food to European allies and American troops. That left limited food for the home front. But patriotic Americans didn’t fret or complain. They grew their own. Backyards and public parks sprouted gardens bursting with fruits, herbs, and vegetables. Estimates suggest citizens planted more than five million gardens during WWI alone.
Gardening today can also be a shared experience during hardship and uncertainty. In the wake of the coronavirus, would-be gardeners bought seeds, watched how-to videos, and joined online gardening groups.
Historian Rose Hayden-Smith wrote a book about victory gardens. She compares last century’s patches to the current growing craze. She adds, “Not only was there a war, but there was an influenza pandemic,” referring to the deadly flu of 1918-1919.
Hayden-Smith sees another parallel: Posts about gardening during the pandemic are today’s version of the victory garden poster. She notes, “We don’t have poster art, but we have Instagram.” Indeed, social media brims with images of tilled backyards and raised garden beds.
Of course, the reason behind today’s trend may have more to do with government stay-at-home orders than civic pride.
Emanuel Sferios was self-employed before the virus. His work dried up, but he borrowed a tiller and planted lettuce, beets, kale, and broccoli in his backyard. He’s adding squash, melons, tomatoes, and peppers.
“I have all this time on my hands,” he explains.
Boredom, lack of exercise, a stagnant economy. Gardening helps cure some emotional and physical ills. But there’s another plus to the garden boom: People are loving, helping, and preferring others—exactly what Jesus commands. (Mark 12:31)
Scores of community gardeners are helping to feed families without income and kids who no longer get meals at school. Computer programs help link gardeners with hungry people nearby. Even backyard gardeners are donating some of their bounty to neighborhood and church food banks.
Laurell Sims co-founded Urban Growers Collective. “When we know that our neighbors are sick,” she says, “we’re able to help them out.”
Before the coronavirus, Bettie Egerton wanted to revive victory gardens in her Oregon community for environmental reasons. Now she says the idea of a victory garden has added meaning. “It’s like victory over all kinds of things.”
In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world. — John 16:33