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1917 – A Million Gardens – How the ‘National Emergency Food Garden Commission’ Will Help the Nation’s Food Supply

Charles Lathrop Pack, of Medical Board. President, National War Garden Commission. Photo taken in 1917 by Harris and Ewing.

Massive national publicity campaign! “The man, woman or child who allows any soil fertility or available labor to go to waste this year deserves the opprobrium that goes to the military slacker.”

By the International Syndicate
The Ogden Standard
June 30, 1917
(Must read. Mike)

President Wilson said in one of his war messages: “Let me suggest that every one who creates or cultivates a garden helps, and greatly, to solve the problem of the feeding of the nations.”

While the Federal Departments, especially the Department of Agriculture, are sending their valuable scientific lore and advice broadcast in the interest of more intensive food cultivation as a war emergency measure, a now national association, with headquarters in Washington is also at work.

A Volunteer Organization.

Realizing that the most important feature of economic preparedness is to provide a sufficient food supply, it has taken upon itself the labor of gathering together all the scientific information concerning food gardens available, condensing it and making it yet more practically available to the householder imbued with the patriotic desire to grow his own garden food.

The official bureaus have welcomed this volunteer organization as a valuable aid in the dissemination of their information. It is known as the National Emergency Food Garden Commission, and it has affiliated with it the Conservation Department of the American Forestry Association.

Its president is Mr Charles Lathrop Pack, of Lakewood. New Jersey, and its secretary is P. S. Ridsdale, secretary of the American Forestry Association. The plan adopted by the commission is first to create garden volunteers by making the dwellers in cities, towns and villages realize the danger in the food situation this year; and then to give these volunteers daily instructions in gardening, from the sprouting of seeds in hot beds to the harvesting of the ripe crops.

One Million Food Gardens.

Girl Scouts Gardening. 1917 photo by Harris and Ewing. Click on the image for larger file.

The immediate aim of the commission is the planting of one million food gardens in cities, towns and villages, over and above those which were planted in any one previous year. The products of all these gardens, it calculates, will feed over a million families, and the value of all garden stuff will reach beyond the half-billion dollar mark.

The main feature of the work of the National Emergency Food Garden Commission is to supply thousands of newspapers with articles and hundreds of clubs with matter inspiring the planting of food gardens, and with a daily service of practical advice on the making and care of these gardens, the selection of seeds and the cultivation of the vegetables. By this means an average of ten million people, many of them novices in garden are supplied with daily instructions as to the cultivation of their emergency garden food supply.

At present some two thousand newspapers are printing the information dally and hundreds of clubs are disseminating instructions to their members at their weekly and monthly meetings. The commission also furnishes to those who ask it “The Food Garden Primer,” which, in eight brief pages, tells in condensed, compact and practical form all that the beginner requires to know about planting a food garden.

This primer, with the dally news service of the Commission, is being used by many of the railroads throughout the country who are planting their idle lands along their tracks. The banks of the country who are encouraging gardening among their employes and patrons, and many of the clubs are using the literature. Among those clubs availing themselves of this service are the Rotary clubs of the United States, the General Federation of Women’s Clubs and the National League for Women’s Service.

Originator Of The Movement.

The organization of the National Emergency Food Garden Commission was the idea of Charles Lathrop Pack, its president, and he is not only serving as active president of the organization but is also paying its overhead expenses.

Desiring to “do his bit” for his country in time of war he looked about for the best opportunity upon which to expend his energy and wealth. He found upon investigation that there are hundreds of thousands of acres of untitled lots, neglected back yards and idle land accessible to those who might wish to utilize it.

He found, further, that the food supply of the nation was dwindling, that prices for the necessities of life were soaring dally, that the war threatened still higher altitudes, and that the products of the farm and the stock from the ranches would be required for the fighting men in this and other countries.

It was because of the magnitude of the problem that Mr. Pack made the successful effort to secure as members of his commission men foremost in every line of thought and action touching the great question of the nation’s food supply. The Commission immediately following organization took up the work of spreading the gospel of food preparedness.

Mayors of cities and towns, boards of trade, newspapers and other publications were appealed to and they have responded generously, finding the National Emergency Food Garden Commission a practical avenue of entrance into the nation-wide food campaign. In many cities central bodies have been organized to correlate efforts toward successful gardening, establishing these efforts on a systematized basis by cooperation with the Commission.

Public spirited men and women are serving on the central bodies, and all over the country city councils, chambers of commerce, boards of trade, mothers’ clubs, citizens associations, boy scouts and girl scouts and play ground associations have taken up the business of actually getting the nation into condition where it may feel some sense of security in regard to its present and its future source of garden products.

Food Deficiency Probable.

In a recent statement made by Mr. Peck on this emergency war work which he has inaugurated he said:
“The National Emergency Food Garden Commission aims to assist in making food more plentiful in villages, towns and cities by inspiring the planting of food gardens this year. This is a measure of economic preparedness of vital importance. It will release, in case of military necessity, the use of thousands of trains otherwise required to carry food; it will relieve transportation difficulties which often now cause a deficiency in food supplies; It will reduce the high cost of living.

“Hundreds of thousands of individuals and thousands of organizations would raise vegetables in home gardens, school gardens and vacant lots if they were aroused and if they knew how. The National Emergency Food Garden Commission will arouse them and tell them how.

“We face a national emergency — a food deficiency. The way to meet and overcome it is to enlist our boys and girls and men and women to plant vegetables on every spot of ground available.

“European nations cannot supply their own needs for food; they must buy from the United States. This buying depletes our own supply. Crops were short last year and the year before. Scarcity of labor will make them short this year. The problem is serious. Patriotic Americans wish to help their country. They can best help by relieving the Government of this food problem. They can solve this economic crisis and benefit themselves financially and physically by planting food gardens.

“We expect to induce more than a million young people, women and elderly men, this year to plant a food garden. Most of them have not done so before. This alone should add much more than two hundred and fifty million dollars to the food value of this season’s crop. Those who have made such gardens before should increase their efforts.

“Plant Gardens And Help Win The War”

“War has now made the planting of food gardens an imperative obligation upon every American citizen who has access to land, no matter how restricted its area. The man, woman or child who allows any soil fertility or available labor to go to waste this year deserves the opprobrium that goes to the military slacker. We are, perhaps, approaching the time when we must adopt meatless days either voluntarily or by government fiat. Let us see to it that the food substitutes for meat are produced independently of farms by the great host of home gardeners. Because it is late in the season, do not neglect to plant a garden for that reason; prolific gardens may seeded until July. Plant a garden now and help win the war.

“The planting of millions of food gardens, making vegetables ‘F. O. B.* the kitchen door’ is the only answer to the food problem confronting the country at this time. There must be no such cry for food in this country as there is in stricken Europe. This great country should not become a country of bread tickets no matter how long the war lasts. It will not be if we all do our part.

“A condition and not a theory confronts us. The answer to the problem is the planting of millions of food gardens. They will give millions of families cheap food, and they will relieve the railways of transportation problems which it is everywhere admitted would be too much for them.

“The nations of the world realize the terrible significance of the situation today facing the people. It is no longer a matter of men and munitions, but of food – food for the armies, for the babies, for the old men and women and for the rising generation of youths who must be fed equally as well as the men who shoulder the rifles.”

*[FOB is an initialism which pertains to the shipping of goods. Depending on specific usage, it may stand for Free On Board or Freight On Board.]

Link to 1917 article above.

See Charles Pack’s book ‘The war garden victorious’ 1919 online here.

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