Recently I have been working on a small research paper about the history of Victory Gardens in the US during World War II. As an advocate of edible urban gardening, be that cultivating a grass-less yard to beekeeping to urban chickens, Victory Gardens mark an interesting time in our history where I feel my advocacy is originally rooted. Without going into too much heavy history here, I’ll give a quick recap.

Victory Gardens in the US actually began during World War I, around 1917. They were not a huge part of the war effort, as they were started more as a consumer panic that food rationing might begin. Food rationing did not really begin until World War II, which is when Victory Gardens became prolific in the US. At various times, food items like meat, sugar and eventually canned vegetables were rationed. To help families cope with these limitations, and encourage families to consume less in general so provisions were plentiful for the troops and US allies, the US Department of Agriculture began to promote Victory Gardens.

In addition to tons of propaganda, they issued handbooks teaching the novice city-dweller how to grow seeds, plan a garden, fertilize, etc. I had the privilege of actually reviewing the original 1943 pamphlet called “Victory Garden: Leader’s Handbook”, issued by the US Department of Agriculture. It was exciting to flip through those weathered yellow pages that marked a time in our country’s history where we came together for a greater good. And it made me ponder what could possibly motivate the masses now to pick up the spade, overturn our lawns, and help bring good food back to our tables.

Inside the booklet was a chart you could use to measure how much food you needed to grow for your family. Our diet has changed a lot over the last 66 years, but I copied down all of the detail to re-post here in an Excel format. I see my annual vegetables garden as a modern day Victory Garden. So what did they grow back then? (click on image for larger view)

For those interested, you can download my Excel file here:


I’m planning on mapping out what we would need to grow based on this chart in our home garden. Based on changes in diet over the years, I will tweak it from there. The next step will be organizing those seed swapping parties!

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Written by Renee Wilkinson