Vintage Views: Concord victory gardens once flourished

  • The Victory Gardens of yesteryear grew fruit, vegetables and wonderful memories. US Library of Congress

  • The Victory Gardens of yesteryear grew fruit, vegetables and wonderful memories. US Library of Congress

Vintage Views
Published: 3/12/2022 11:45:00 AM
Modified: 3/12/2022 11:44:46 AM

Vintage Views is a local history column that explores Concord and its surrounding towns. It runs every week in the Sunday Your Life section. The author is a historian and not a member of the Monitor’s staff.

 

When I was a young boy growing up in Concord many years ago, I would greatly anticipate one of my favorite seasons, the season of spring. The March days would grow longer and the sun shined brighter melting away the old winter snow. The frozen ground would yield to the warmer temperatures and beckon the gardener within. My parents would bring me to the local hardware store where I would purchase a paper envelope illustrated with colorful pictures of vegetables and flowers. When Memorial Day weekend arrived, my mother would bring me outside to plant along the old picket fence in our yard. I would plant a good mix of vegetables and flowers; Morning Glories were one of mom’s favorites. As the days passed, I would venture to the old picket fence to check my garden, certain to water my crops, in search of the first sign of a green sprig poking from the dark soil. Yes, the plants grew from their seeds while mom and I developed some very fond memories together. Two wayward farmers with our little corner of the earth where we grew Morning Glories, vegetables and some wonderful dreams.

My mom had some gardening experience, a product of the depression era she knew the value of a good meal and a budget. It was a time when most Americans enjoyed a garden, practiced the art of canning and food preservation and reaped a bountiful harvest each fall. A different time when your summer crops were produced in your yard where the vegetables always tasted the best.

It was during the year 1917 when the United States was heading into World War I that a gentleman named Charles Lathrop Pack established a commission with a focus on gardening. He organized the National War Garden Commission to encourage citizens to grow their own produce and fruit. It was a wonderful idea at a time when it was desperately needed, a way for the ordinary citizens living in the small towns of America to contribute to a greater cause, the war effort. The Victory Garden was born at this time in 1917, everyone in our little town of Concord planted their gardens, fertilized, weeded and then harvested in the fall. People learned the value of food as well as the value of food storage. If you were patriotic and planted a Victory Garden you helped the war effort by allowing more food to be exported to our allies. My grandmother told some wonderful stories about her Victory Garden, this magical place where she grew her crops and became lost in thoughts. The garden provided preoccupation to many, to enjoy the outdoors and not dwell on their loved ones serving overseas in the war.

The concept was well managed and promoted by the state and federal government. There were posters about town, especially in the front windows of the local hardware store that sold seeds. These posters boasted messages such as “Sow the Seeds of Victory”, encouraging more and more people to plant their own little Victory Gardens. Every little piece of land was targeted to plant seeds and grow, private land and public land alike, gardens flourished everywhere in Concord. Unsightly vacant lots were soon planted and gardens grew, back yards, side yards and city parks were also planted. Every civic organization became involved and promoted the concept very well. If you were not planting a Victory Garden you were simply not doing your part for the war effort.

The United States Federal Bureau of Education provided training and promoted Victory Gardens at local schools where the children were known as “soldiers of the soil.” It has been said that as many as three million new gardens were planted in the United States in 1917. It was only at the end of World War I when the concept slowed, though many people continued to maintain their own little farms.

The resounding response from the summer of 1917 was not known again, but the name “Victory Garden” is still alive a century later. When I was a child growing up in Concord there were areas still set aside for the citizens of Concord to plant their gardens on private and public land. I remember the land near Page Belting Company being used by many well into the 1970’s and the fields along Clinton Street until this very day.

As wars have arrived and ended, our little gardens have survived. My grandmother produced many mason jars each harvest. She also baked the most delicious pies. The scent of the rhubarb, strawberry, blueberry and apple pies of my youth remains with me. As I encourage spring to arrive and I visit the local hardware store on a Saturday morning my fond memories do visit me once again. That colorful seed packet filled with Morning Glory seeds still beckons me. It beckons me back to my youth, my mom and a sunny Saturday morning planting seeds along the old picket fence.

Vintage Views is a local history column that explores Concord and its surrounding towns. It runs every week in the Sunday Your Life section. The author is a historian and not a member of the Monitor’s staff.




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