Is It Time To Resurrect the WWII 'Grow Your Own' Campaign?

gardening

Is It Time To Resurrect the WWII 'Grow Your Own' Campaign?

During the devastating floods that hit Queensland in 2011, Brisbane and regional centres came perilously close to running out of fresh food. With the central Rocklea produce market underwater, panic-buying soon set in and supermarket shelves emptied fast.

Such events expose the vulnerability of our urban food systems. Climate change and resource depletion present more slow-burning challenges, but the fact remains that urban food policy is at risk of complacency.

Gardening is certainly good for you, but does it have a role to play in increasing urban food security and resilience? Perhaps history can tell us the answer.

While Australian research has focused on recent urban agriculture initiatives, a real-world experiment in gardening for food security took place in Australia more than 70 years ago, during the Second World War.

Winning the war with home-grown food

Britain, facing serious food shortages, began using the slogan “Dig for Victory” in 1939. In Australia, low-key efforts at encouraging home food production began two years later.

A 1941 survey of Melbourne households revealed that 48% of them already produced food of some kind. In spacious middle-ring suburbs the proportion was as high as 88%, whereas in the dense inner cities it was less than 15%. Food production was most common among middle-class and skilled working-class households, and less so among the poor and marginalised.

By 1943, significant food shortfalls were expected in Australia. The government responded with a range of measures, including a large-scale “Grow Your Own” campaign.

Movies, radio broadcasts, public demonstrations, competitions, posters, newspaper ads and brochures all urged home gardeners to grow their own vegetables. It was hoped this would reduce the strain on the commercial food supply, as well as offering substitutes for rationed food items, providing insurance against commercial food supply failures, and easing the demand on items such as fuel and rubber. Municipal councils and schools also ran vegetable production programmes.

While there are no reliable statistics on the campaign’s effectiveness, anecdotal evidence suggests that home food production increased – but not without hitting obstacles along the way.

Wartime disruptions led to shortages of pesticides, seeds, rubber and fertilisers. Livestock and fowl can play an important role in nutrient cycling in sustainable food production, but cows and goats had been excluded from many urban areas in the decades before the war. As a result, competition for local manure was fierce; some gardeners would wait with bucket and shovel for horses on grocery rounds to pass by.

Artificial fertilisers were also expensive and hard to come by. Even the use of blood and bone as an organic fertiliser was restricted, as it was diverted for commercial poultry and pig feed. Alternatives included composting of waste, although this required time and skill, and its nutritional value for plants was limited.

Labour, too, was in short supply. Many able-bodied people had joined the armed forces and others were working long hours in war jobs. This left relatively few urban residents with the time and energy to devote to a vegetable garden. The Women’s Land Army was involved in some urban cultivation, and the YWCA established a “Garden Army” of women who established and tended community gardens on private or public land.

Lessons from the past

What lessons can we learn from this history about the capacity for suburban food production to boost urban food supply in a time of prolonged scarcity?

The most important is that home and community food gardens can contribute meaningfully to resilient urban food systems, but as our urban form is changing we need to explicitly plan for this contribution.

For example, vegetable gardens need space – public or private – that is reasonably open and not crowded by trees. This is one reason why the spacious middle-ring suburbs of Melbourne were more productive than the inner city in 1941.

Sustainable urban food production also requires skill, knowledge and time. Much food gardening today relies heavily on purchased seedlings, manures and pesticides. Resilient food gardens need to have a range of strategies for sourcing essential inputs locally, for example through seed saving networks, composting, local livestock and fowl, and on-site rainwater collection and storage. They also need people with the time and skills to manage these systems.

This history also provides inspiration in the form of stories of self-provisioning by everyday people, such as the 56-year-old woman running a habadashery and confectionery store who in 1941 produced all the vegetables and eggs she and her sister required at their Essendon home.

The low-density form of much of Australia’s urban landscape provides considerable potential for sustainable and resilient food production. But our cities still need to invest in developing the skills and systems to sustain this kind of farming.

This is especially critical for low-income areas where resource scarcity will bite hardest. It is also a task that looks ever more challenging as farms are pushed further from the city, while standard homes on shrinking lot sizes and poorly designed infill development eat up urban garden space.

We may not yet be at the stage of needing a nationwide “Grow Your Own” campaign on the scale seen during wartime. But if we want to increase our cities’ resilience and sustainability, we would be foolish to ignore its lessons.

The Conversation

About The Author

Andrea Gaynor, Associate Professor of History, University of Western Australia

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Related Books:

The Grow Your Own Food Handbook: A Back to Basics Guide to Planting, Growing, and Harvesting Fruits and Vegetables (Handbook Series)

gardeningAuthor: Monte Burch
Binding: Paperback
Studio: Skyhorse
Label: Skyhorse
Publisher: Skyhorse
Manufacturer: Skyhorse

Buy Now
Editorial Review: Growing your own food is a hot topic today because of the high cost of transporting food long distances, the heightened problem of diseases caused by commercially grown foods, concerns of the overuse of chemicals in mass food production, and the uncertain health effects of GMOs. Many people—from White House executives to inner-city kids—have recently discovered the benefits of homegrown vegetables and fruits. Community gardens, and even community canning centers, are increasingly popular and have turned roof-top gardening into a great and healthy food source. And on a smaller scale, some plants can even be grown in containers for the smallest backyard or patio. The possibilities for growing your own food are endless!

The Grow Your Own Food Handbook informs you how to grow all types of vegetables, fruits, and even grains on your own land or in any small space available to you and your family. Also included is information on specific health benefits, vitamins, and minerals for each food, as well as detailed instructions for fall and winter food growing. Learn how to grow for your family, harvest and store all types of home-grown produce, and find joy in eating foods planted with your own hands.




The Year-Round Vegetable Gardener: How to Grow Your Own Food 365 Days a Year, No Matter Where You Live

gardeningAuthor: Niki Jabbour
Binding: Paperback
Features:
  • Full of techniques for year-round growing and harvesting
  • Gives you information for what to plan and when
  • Explains the equipment you need during the cold seasons
  • Even includes step-by-step photo instructions for building a cold frame
  • Color photos

Brand: Storey Publishing
Creator(s):
  • Joseph De Sciose

Studio: Storey Publishing, LLC
Label: Storey Publishing, LLC
Publisher: Storey Publishing, LLC
Manufacturer: Storey Publishing, LLC

Buy Now
Editorial Review:
Even in winter’s coldest months you can harvest fresh, delicious produce. Drawing on insights gained from years of growing vegetables in Nova Scotia, Niki Jabbour shares her simple techniques for gardening throughout the year. Learn how to select the best varieties for each season, the art of succession planting, and how to build inexpensive structures to protect your crops from the elements. No matter where you live, you’ll soon enjoy a thriving vegetable garden year-round.




The Backyard Homestead: Produce all the food you need on just a quarter acre!

gardeningBinding: Paperback
Features:
  • The Backyard Homestead Produce all the food you need on just a quarter acre

Brand: Workman Publishing
Creator(s):
  • Carleen Madigan

Studio: Storey Publishing, LLC
Label: Storey Publishing, LLC
Publisher: Storey Publishing, LLC
Manufacturer: Storey Publishing, LLC

Buy Now
Editorial Review:
This comprehensive guide to homesteading provides all the information you need to grow and preserve a sustainable harvest of grains and vegetables; raise animals for meat, eggs, and dairy; and keep honey bees for your sweeter days. With easy-to-follow instructions on canning, drying, and pickling, you’ll enjoy your backyard bounty all winter long.




gardening
enafarzh-CNzh-TWtlfrdehiiditjamsptrues

follow InnerSelf on

google-plus-iconfacebook-icontwitter-iconrss-icon

 Get The Latest By Email

{emailcloak=off}

follow InnerSelf on

google-plus-iconfacebook-icontwitter-iconrss-icon

 Get The Latest By Email

{emailcloak=off}