Right now, most of us feel like we’ve lost all sense of control. And since there’s no guarantee when life will ever feel normal again, many people are seeking their own sense of security, whether it’s through baking comfort foods (read: banana bread), trying out new craft projects, or gardening for the very first time.
Interest in gardening, in particular, has surged in recent months in part due to seasonal changes, but also because of an increasing food supply anxiety amid the coronavirus outbreak. In late March, interest in growing a garden hit an all-time high, according to Google Trends, while searches for “growing vegetables from scraps” was up 4,650% from year’s past. Nurseries, home improvement stores, and gardening centers in all parts of the country report that seeds, plants, and gardening tools are flying off the shelves. George Ball, the chairman of Burpee Seeds, told Reuters that they sold more seeds in March than any time in its 144-year history, forcing the company to hold on new orders for one week to play catch up. Even social media reflects this growing demand: As of right now, the hashtag #victorygarden has been added to more than 66,000 Instagram posts.
And really, it makes perfect sense. Feeding America, the nation’s largest network of food banks, expects to serve an additional 17 million people over the next six months due to COVID-19, according to Marketplace. Even those that haven’t been financially impacted by the pandemic are trying to avoid grocery stores at all costs, especially given the picked-over shelves, heightening meat shortage, and current social distancing guidelines.
While some parts of the country are resuming back to (a new) normal, this experience has placed an emphasis on the value of growing your own food in times of crisis. “They don’t want to go out in public, but they also want the safety and security of nutritious food, and there’s no better way to do that than to grow your own,” Ron Vanderhoff from Roger’s Gardens told CBS Sunday Morning.
The concept isn’t entirely new. During World War I, Americans were encouraged to grow their own food in “war gardens” in wake of the growing food crisis. Many agriculture workers were recruited into the military, which meant there weren’t enough people to plant, fertilize, and harvest produce. On top of that, railroad companies reserved less train cars for food shipments, so that they could transport more military members at any given time.
Just before America entered the war, Charles Lathrop Pack organized the National War Garden Commission to ensure that Americans would be able to feed their families, the military, and their allies throughout the war. Gardens began popping up in parks, schoolyards, fire escapes, backyards, and vacant lots, totaling more than five million new gardens by 1918. Together, the gardens, which were now affectionally called “victory gardens,” generated roughly 1.45 million quarts of canned fruits and vegetables.
While some people maintained their gardens during the Depression era, the need for victory gardens returned during World War II. This time, however, the focus was different: Americans were encouraged to grow gardens, wherever they could find the space, to practice self-sufficiency. “You can help win the battle of food production. You can help our fighting men get the food they need. You can help save the vital metals in commercial canning,” read a radio ad from 1943.
Once food rationing was signed into law in 1942, Americans had another reason to give gardening a try. Eleanor Roosevelt even planted a victory garden on the White House lawn as a sign of solidarity. It’s estimated that 20 million victory gardens popped up during World War II, producing more than 40% of the country’s fruits and vegetables.
In past and present, victory gardens boost morale, ease burdens placed on local farmers, and combat food supply demands. Similar to cleaning and baking, tending to a garden also relieves stress and anxiety, which peaks during unprecedented times like this. “When we interact with green, outdoor environments we tend to breathe more deeply and at a more regulated pace,” Monique Allen, author of Stop Landscaping, Start Lifescaping, tells us. Ultimately, this “oxygenates the blood and releases endorphins, which are natural painkillers and mood enhancers.”
And if you’re worried that you waited too long to start a victory garden of your own, here’s some good news: Depending on where you live, The Old Farmer’s Almanac says that you have until June 2 to plant most fruits and vegetables, especially seasonal offerings like bell peppers, cucumbers, eggplants, squash, and watermelons.