Operation Rutabaga or Gardening for Victory

Operation Rutabaga

by Carl Zebrowski


When the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, everyone in America began to worry. For US Secretary of Agriculture Claude R. Wickard, the worrying focused on whether American farmers could provide enough food for servicemen overseas and still fulfill the requirements at home. But a surplus of food wouldn’t be good, either. Following the law of supply and demand, prices would drop. Farmers would lose money on everything they sold and start going out of business. That could be disastrous. Wickard later summed up this conundrum as "scared to death you wouldn’t have enough, scared to death you’d have too much."


Still, it was the prospect of not having enough that Wickard feared most. At the end of 1941, he urged Americans to break soil in the spring and plant vegetable seeds so they could grow their own food, freeing up farmers to feed the troops. "Victory Gardens," a term that had originated late in World War I, was the name he gave to the plots the citizens would soon be tending.


Before long, millions of Americans were digging up their back yards and sowing seeds. Even city-dwellers were carving out 8-by-10-foot blocks from tiny yards so they could participate. There were also communal plots in municipal parks and other public places-including such unlikely sites as Oregon’s Portland Zoo, Chicago’s Arlington Park race track, and San Francisco City Hall. Some companies, particularly manufacturers of war goods, started their own farms of several hundred acres to supply their employee cafeterias.


Victory Gardens big and small were sown with tomatoes, beets, carrots, peas, and radishes. And when seeds for those and other popular vegetables grew scarce, the gardeners took their chances on rutabagas, kohlrabi, and parsnips. "I can never forget the kohlrabi," recalled Elaine W. Kniskern on the Daily Star Online website. "It was a strange thing, or perhaps I was strange, but I loved kohlrabi sliced raw and never cooked."


In 1943, do-it-yourself farming operations reached their peak, with the so-called Sunday Farmers tending 20 million plots and harvesting fully one-third of the fresh vegetables consumed in the United States.



The Sunday Farmers received plenty of instructional aid. Newspapers and magazines printed countless columns of advice and tips. Seed companies and magazines such as <I>Good Housekeeping<P> and <I>House and Garden<P> published reams of public service booklets that described the essentials. Armed with some gumption, a few basic tools, and an armload of reading material that explained when to plant what, how to care for the growing garden, and how to get rid of destructive pests, the Sunday Farmer was ready to make a real contribution to the war effort.


Despite the fact that Americans on the home front were growing much of their own food, farmers fared very well through the war. Congress helped by legislating price floors, while the farmers, most of whose workers were exempted from the draft, produced a surplus-enough to be able to send 10 percent of their produce overseas to friendly markets. From 1940 to 1945, the income of commercial farmers exploded an astounding 400 percent.


By war’s end, commercial farmers, who were reaping more profits than ever, had harvested 10 million tons of food. Victory Gardeners were not far behind, having produced an incredible 8 million tons. But perhaps the biggest yield of all those little vegetable plots was the boost in spirits they created on the home front. "It was a great morale thing," said Kelly Holthus, quoted on the Wessels Living History Farm website about his wartime boyhood in Loomis, Nebraska. "And for young people like me, it was, you know, I could do my part. I was a part of the effort."


The Victory Garden program turned out be the least controversial and most popular of all civilian war efforts. With farmers faring so well and morale at home climbing so high, there was little to complain about, especially when you added in the program’s greatest unexpected and underreported dividend: America’s diet improved. Thanks to those millions of painstakingly tended gardens, Americans, rich and poor, young and old, ate healthier than ever."




Carl Zebrowski is the managing editor and website editor of America in WWII. This article originally appeared in the December 2005 issue of America in WWII.



Marion J Chard
Proud Daughter of Walter (Monday) Poniedzialek
540th Engineer Combat Regiment, 2833rd Bn, H&S Co, 4th Platoon
There's "No Bridge Too Far"

My Grandpa Michael Howard was a "sunday farmer".

He was 68 in 1942 and and had 2 "Victory Gardens" and was

still working as a chauffeur and gardener.


He had his backyard garden and another plot he worked

down the street in some kind of "community" farming area.

He worked them both by himself - tilling, sowing,weeding, and



I wonder what would happen in this day & age.

People don't even plant their own flowers or mow their own

lawns, everybody's got landscapers.




Yes, that is true. What, work out in the garden and get dirty? EWWWW! That's what most of them would do. :armata_PDT_23:


People did what they had to do and worked as a community. How refreshing! :armata_PDT_37:


I know I wouldn't have a problem with that. I've been working out in my garden for the last week putting in mega hours before the cold weather arrives here in Michigan. Got all my flowers planted and they are eagerly awaiting next spring.


No veggies yet, but that will be next year. We've only been here for 5 years, so one thing at a time. I think next year I'll be planting at least tomatoes, onions and garlic and a few herbs.


Oh here's some photos of my garden this summer. Hope you enjoy it.





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Marion J Chard
Proud Daughter of Walter (Monday) Poniedzialek
540th Engineer Combat Regiment, 2833rd Bn, H&S Co, 4th Platoon
There's "No Bridge Too Far"

BEAUTIFUL Marion! I had some of those Turk's cap lilies, but those

:cuss: red beetles ate em.


I had the goldsturm rudbeckia in my main garden & they were GORGEOUS this year

next to the Rosa Radrazz( "Knock Out" roses) which are still in full bloom!


In addition to the pink echinacea, I bought a pretty yellow variety at a garden

center this year - I think it's called "Mellow Yellow".


Your Monarda/Bee Balm looks fabulous. I never seem to have much luck with that

plant, but have a neighbor who'se had great success with it.


I got a daylily catalogue from Olallie Farms in Vermont and made lists

of the ones I'd like to have for next year ( I'll be lucky if I can budget for one or two,

but you need to dream!).




New in my garden this year - a"Sky Pencil" holly that grows about 8-9 ft tall

and no more than 1-2 ft wide. A great accent shrub! and it's evergreen!


One of the very best container plants I bought this year was a perennial

lobelia that was sky blue and is STILL blooming like mad!


fun stuff! Sigh! I hate putting the garden to bed for the winter.


thank you for sharing your garden photos! :clappin: We'll have to confer

about our plantings next Spring!





I look forward to conferring with ya! :clappin: Oh man could I spend money on my garden, but alas that is not to be. I save up and save up and spend judiciously. Luckily my neighbor across the street has what is basically a "nursery". I buy at least half my plants from her during the year. Talk about nice. I just walk out my back door, grab my wheel barrow, bring a few bucks and come home with a load of beautiful buds. It doesn't get much easier than that! ;)
Marion J Chard
Proud Daughter of Walter (Monday) Poniedzialek
540th Engineer Combat Regiment, 2833rd Bn, H&S Co, 4th Platoon
There's "No Bridge Too Far"

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