World War II Victory Garden Mania Hits Iowa

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War Gardens for Victory poster

“Own your own victory garden and four room house,” a Davenport realtor suggested to buyers in a local newspaper ad in spring 1942. All over the state businesses used the victory garden campaign to sell their products and services. Seed and gardening stores offered free seed packets and information pamphlets to customers to entice customers to plant victory gardens. Clothing stores advertised slacks for women to wear while tending their victory garden. A Charles City nursery advertised for “Victory Garden Salesmen” to help sell products to “make healthy American workers and fighters.”

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Only a few months into the war and with snow covering the ground, Iowans made plans to plant victory gardens as soon as the ground thawed. The Estherville Daily News encouraged readers to pass the winter doing some “fireside planning”— reading seed catalogs and drawing out maps for summer garden plots.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture asked states to form victory garden committees immediately, thereby making a “real contribution to victory.” The objectives for the committees included a survey of available fertile land and identification of facilities to be used as home canning centers. The committees would recruit individuals who had experience growing and preserving garden produce. Men’s and women’s garden clubs, 4-H club leaders and county farm agents were encouraged to join the committees.

In Franklin County committees were formed and started to assess needs and possibilities for gardens. Schools with hot lunch programs, as well as individuals and groups made plans to raise and can corn, peas, beans and tomatoes. In Muscatine County a training titled “Planning the 1942 Victory Garden” was offered to farm families, with a nutritionist and horticulturist from the county extension providing the expertise.

Students in the public and parochial schools in Carroll could participate in community gardens during the summer as part of the summer rec program. Letters went home to parents advising them to oversee their kids’ gardens to avoid waste and misuse of the garden spaces. In Malvern locals organized a Food-for-Victory program open to all farm and town girls. Leaders said, “Youth must be made to feel that they have a real responsibility in helping to win the war.”

Des Moines residents were eager to start planting, but there was a shortage of available plots in some sections of the city. The chamber of commerce encouraged land owners to make their vacant lots available for potential gardeners at no charge.

The Davenport country club opened their social season with a victory garden party in May. Despite bad weather, over 200 members and guests attended the gala. The victory garden breakfast offered door prizes including wheelbarrows, garden tools and seed catalogs. The clubhouse was decorated in a garden theme: wheelbarrows, garden tools and straw hats. Table centerpieces were made with green vegetables.

A letter to the editor writer in a Davenport newspaper summed up the attitudes that seemed to prevail throughout the state. He wrote that “after we win this war,” people who contributed to the victory garden campaign would realize that they had bought “Victory bonds with nice fruit to pick from.”

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Sources:

  • “Call For War Garden Plots,” Des Moines Register, April 3, 1942.
  • “Country Club Opens Social Season With Victory Garden Party,” Quad-City Times, May 4, 1942.
  • “Fireside Planning Now Will Speed Victory Garden,” Estherville Daily News, March 5, 1942.
  • “Franklin Co. to Have Victory Garden Program,” Courier (Waterloo), Jan. 23, 1942.
  • “4-H Girls, Leaders Attend ‘Health for Service’ Meetings,” Malvern Leader, Feb. 5, 1942.
  • “People’s Pulpit,” Daily Times, (Davenport), Jan. 19, 1942.  
  • “Victory Garden Committees to Be Established,” Courier (Waterloo), Jan. 16, 1942.
  • “Victory Garden Is Theme of Muscatine County Farm Session,” Daily Times, (Davenport), Feb. 18, 1942.
  • “Victory Gardens First of Summer Playground Plans,” Carroll Daily Times Herald, March 18, 1942.

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