Gardening for Victory

This garden has taught us that if we have the courage to plant a seed … We never know what might grow.

                                                ~ Michelle Obama

While much of the reporting about the Trump Administration shows major danger to the country, journalism about the damage Melania did to the White House Rose Garden and the First Lady’s Kitchen Garden were exaggerated. Some trees were ripped out, supposedly to be replanted elsewhere, and ‘improvements’ were made to drainage and access, in part because the President has begun to use the White House for his campaign rallies.

However, the turmoil that resulted from that information and misinformation underscores the fact that Americans take great pride in their gardens. Victory Gardens were common in WWI and, ultimately, in WWII. According to reporter April White, the turmoil is nothing new. Secretary of Agriculture during WWII, Claude Wickard, stated at the time, “I hope there will be no move to plow up the parks and the lawns to grow vegetables as in the First World War. I do not think the Nation will benefit at present from a widespread, all out campaign intended to put a vegetable garden in every city backyard or vacant lot.”

He believed we should leave the farming to professionals, “Food will win the war and write the peace,” Wickard repeated often throughout 1941, preparing a new generation of professional farmers to meet the coming battle. “’This is our war.’ The country, newly at war, needed its farmers. But it did not need its city gardeners … they would waste valuable resources: seeds and fertilizer the country’s farmers needed.”

By 1943, Wickard had changed his tune. White notes, “The demands of the war were greater than anticipated, and the country’s farming capacity had been curtailed by the incarceration of 120,000 Japanese-Americans, a large number of whom worked in agriculture.” Not to mention the thousands of young men and women who had worked in agriculture that were then serving in the military.

Similarly, Tracy Jan and Laura Reiley report on conditions today, “American farmers are bracing for a shortage of seasonal workers following the State Department’s suspension of routine immigrant and nonimmigrant visa processing in Mexico, including for temporary migrant laborers … Companies responsible for feeding the country are already expecting fewer available workers to manufacture, deliver and unpack groceries as the coronavirus pandemic intensifies … The seafood industry, including fisheries and crab-picking in Maryland … will also be affected by the U.S. government’s decision.”

And it’s not just farming that is being impacted, “The Trump administration’s immigration squeeze and the hardships caused by the coronavirus pandemic threaten to leave the horse racing industry short of workers, racing officials warn as they prepare for a reconfigured Kentucky Derby,” according to Piper Hudspeth Blackburn.

Once again the nation faces a shortage of farmers and agricultural workers. The seasonal nature, long hours, hard labor and low pay make them less desirable jobs, and therefore more difficult to fill.

Sarah Friedman tries at least to convince us not to worry about the White House gardens, The first lady’s Kitchen Garden is kept up by the National Park Service and maintained by a private funding stream (notably, the Obama administration arranged for both of these endeavors as a means of ensuring the garden’s longevity).” She echoes Michelle Obama’s message of hope:

“I take great pride in knowing that this little garden will live on as a symbol of the hopes and dreams we all hold of growing a healthier nation for our children.”

Additional information:

April White, When World War II Started, the U.S. Government Fought Against Victory Gardens, August 5, 2020, Gastro Obscura

Sarah Friedmann, Here’s How the Garden Michelle Obama Started Is Faring iIn Melania Trump’s Hands, Sep. 15, 2018, Bustle

 Piper Hudspeth Blackburn, Ahead of Kentucky Derby, Shortage of Migrant Workers Looms For Trainers, Aug 30, 2020, Associated Press Border Report

Tracy Jan and Laura Reiley, Suspension Of Visa Processing For Mexican Seasonal Workers Hits U.S. Farms, Fisheries, March 18, 2020, The Washington Post

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