UNION — As First Lady, Michele Obama was well known for her efforts to encourage Americans to eat nutritious foods and to exercise. She set an example by planting a large vegetable garden on the South Lawn of the White House. The produce was used in the White House kitchen for her family’s meals as well as for state dinners, while the remaining portion was donated to local food banks.
As it turns out, Mrs. Obama wasn’t the first First Lady to have a vegetable garden at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt planted one in 1943 and her vegetable garden also had a very specific purpose. It was called a Victory Garden and it was one of millions planted across the country that year.
Organized by the Department of Agriculture, the Victory Garden campaign encouraged ordinary citizens to grow their own fruits and vegetables to ease the strain on the public food supply during World War II.
From South Carolina to California, communities came together to plant gardens in backyards, in parks, in vacant lots, in schoolyards in baseball fields as well as on rooftops. According to historian and scholar Rose Hayden-Smith, the Victory Garden movement served as a moral booster for Americans. Children, teens and adults took great pride in knowing they were serving a common good.
It is estimated that 41% of the vegetables consumed in the United States during World War II were produced from amateur gardeners.
Unfortunately, the interest in gardening fizzled as soon as World War II ended. Hayden-Smith attributes the post-war economic boom as one factor. She says “The decades after World World II brought economic prosperity to America, and with that, the rise of processed and convenience food, leading our nation even further away from home gardens.”
However, the Victory Garden concept is now making a comeback thanks to inspiration from Michele Obama and many others. This time the goal is self-sufficiency and greater health independence. Hayden-Smith says “… people are increasingly concerned about the overall health of our food system and want to make a direct connection to where their food comes from…”
If you are interested in creating your own modern day Victory Garden, please join the Piedmont Physic Garden on Saturday, March 10 from 10 a.m.-noon for our Victory Garden Workshop featuring veteran gardeners, Tommy Sinclair and Buddy Blackmon. They will show you step-by-step on how to turn your own backyard into a healthy and sustainable food source for your whole family.
The cost is $20 and will be held at the Piedmont Physic Garden at 301 E. South Street in Union. To reserve your spot, please call us at 864-427-2556 or you can sign up on our Events page on our website at www.piedmontphysicgarden.org. We look forward to seeing you!