Historic Pelham

Presenting the rich history of Pelham, NY in Westchester County: current historical research, descriptions of how to research Pelham history online and genealogy discussions of Pelham families.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

World War II Victory Gardens in Pelham

During the early years of World War II, as the nation focused on rationing and possible food shortages, plucky Americans responded by filling vacant lots, backyards and even window boxes with “Victory Gardens”. Pelham’s citizens were no exception. Lush vegetable gardens sprouted in vacant lots and backyards throughout the Town, carefully tended by an army of civilian patriots doing their duty to help those fighting overseas.  I have written about Pelham's World War II Victory Gardens before.  See:

Bell, Blake A., World War II Victory Gardens in Pelham, The Pelham Weekly, Vol. XV, Issue 9, Mar. 3, 2006, p. 12, col. 1.

1945 Victory Garden Program Poster.

On January 11, 1942, barely a month after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, the nation’s Office of Civilian Defense announced a “Victory Garden Program.”  The purpose of the program was to encourage community and individual gardens.  “Produce from gardens managed and worked as community undertakings, as well as surpluses from home gardens,” according to the announcement “could be used for school lunch projects and emergency food needs.”

Residents of Pelham embraced the Victory Garden Program with zeal.  The head of the Westchester Farm Bureau held a preliminary meeting in Pelham in March, 1942.  Seven hundred local residents showed up with 516 soil samples for his analysis.  

Pelham was part of the 4th District of the Westchester Victory Garden Council.  Mrs. Francis H. Ludington served as director of the 4th District.  In 1942, the first growing season of the War, Mrs. Ludington organized the movement in Pelham.  Under her careful guidance, the program quickly grew “to overwhelming proportions” according to one account.

Early in the movement, Pelham organizers used a model adopted by local Parents Teachers Associations for PTA fundraising campaigns.  They divided the Town into districts and the districts into zones.  A volunteer supervisor oversaw each zone.  Supervisors oversaw the creation and administration of community gardens (cooperative gardens tended by members of the community) and provided assistance for private victory gardens (gardens tended by private homeowners).

In January 1943, Uncle Sam raised the bar. In an announcement released that month, H. W. Hochbaum, Chairman of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Victory Garden Committee, stated that the nation needed eighteen million victory gardens in 1943: twelve million community and private gardens plus an additional six million farm gardens. 

Pelham mobilized. The Victory Garden program was made a division of Pelham’s “War Council”.  The War Council designated School Board Trustee William B. Shaw as Chairman of the Victory Garden Division.  Two associated Divisions cooperated closely with the Victory Garden Division: the Food Preservation Division chaired by Mrs. Francis H. Ludington and the Nutrition Division chaired by Mrs. Wilson G. Smillie.  

The War Council selected William B. Shaw due, in part, to his success the previous year as director of the Pelham Heights Victory Garden program. The previous year Shaw had overseen the development of a community garden at the corner of Wolfs Lane and the Boulevard. Thirty-five individuals contributed a total of $85 to cover the cost of cultivating, fertilizing and spraying that garden. According to a report on the garden: 

“This plot was roughly cultivated and fertilized and then divided into 37 individual gardens of 300 square feet, 10 plots of 50 square feet each. A drainage system was established which proved a great benefit during the Summer floods. Walks were graveled and the larger plots let to adults while the small lots were given to school children without cost. The group purchased a portable spray pump and spray material, each individual having the right to use this equipment. The Street Department kept the long grass and weeds out, and the rubbish cleared . . . and provided water facilities”. 

Source:  Wm. B. Shaw Gives Report on Victory Gardens in Pelham, The Pelham Sun, Vol. 32, No. 43, Jan. 29, 1943, p. 4, col. 4.

Shaw’s group raised and harvested more than $900 worth of radishes, lettuce, tomatoes, bunch and pole beans, peppers, kohlrabi, broccoli, eggplant, squash, onions, celery, cucumbers, spinach, corn, melons, parsley and garden peas at a total cost of $100 for all who participated.

Eventually, the Victory Garden Division of Pelham’s War Council developed seventeen zones in the Town in 1943 with leaders for each.  The Division arranged a survey of vacant property in town and selected 43 locations for Community Gardens.

By mid-1943, there were 84 community gardens and 98 private gardens registered with the Victory Garden Division.  According to one report, these gardens were in addition to the large number of gardens grown by "those who have always cultivated gardens and did not feel the need of registering."  When tallied, all the individual gardens within the community plots, registered private plots and unregistered plots totaled one thousand Victory Gardens in 1943. 

That year Pelham Victory Gardens produced eleven tons per acre for a total of eighty-eight tons of produce valued at approximately $25,000.  The program ended with a balance in the bank of $209 and “a lot of tools and three tons of fertilizer on hand”.

As the War progressed, however, the number of plantings began to decline.  By 1945, according to one report, Victory Garden plantings were only 68% of the number the previous year and “commercial plantings were somewhat lower” as well.

Today's posting to the Historic Pelham Blog transcribes a few interesting newspaper articles published during the War describing Pelham Victory Garden Developments.

Undated World War II Victory Farm Garden Poster.

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"Lecture By Dr. Findlay, March 16 To Open Victory Gardens Campaign
Mrs. Francis H. Ludington Local Representative in Nation-wide Movement for Victory Vegetable Gardens.  Soil Test Planned for March 18.  

Marking the opening of the local program for Victory Vegetable Gardens in the Pelhams, a committee of garden and civic-minded citizens will sponsor a lecture to be presented in Pelham Memorial High School on Monday night, Mar. 16th at eight o'clock by Dr. Hugh Findlay.  Dr. Findlay who is professor of horticulture at Columbia University, will have as his subject 'The Soil as a National Defense.'  The lecture will be illustrated with slides of vegetable gardens and of vegetable growing in the last World War.

Mrs. Francis H. Ludington of Hillcrest drive, Pelham Manor, has been appointed by the Westchester County Victory Garden Council to represent North Pelham, Pelham Heighs, and Pelham Manor, the fourth district in the county, in this nation-wide program of conservation sponsored by the Department of Agriculture.

Through the county office of the Department of Agriculture a Westchester Victory Garden Council has been formed under the direction of M. E. Buckley, county agricultural agent.  Twelve districts have been formed in the county to facilitate the program with Mrs. Luddington as local representative.

The purpose of the program is to stimulate an increase in effective vegetable growing and cultivation of small fruits to discourage ineffectual, wasteful gardening.  The Council has pointed out that seeds are not scarce but they should not be wasted.  Families growing their own vegetable supplies for this summer with enough to preserve and store for next Winter, will help release vast stores of food needed for the armed forces and our allies.

The Victory Garden program, Mrs. Ludington reports, stresses that ornamental planting and lawns need not be drastically disturbed; room will be found for vegetable growing without going to extremes.

Will Test Soil on March 18th

A test of the soil is considered one of the essentials to effective gardening and to fulfill this requirement, Mrs. Ludington has announced a 'soil testing day' for the Pelhams on March 18th.  Mr. Buckley will set up his soil-testing apparatus at the Manor Club and from the tests of soil submitted by residents will determine the chemical needs of the soil.  Samples of soil, plainly labelled may be left for the test anytime before noon on March 18th at the Manor Club.  A committee of the Garden Section of the club will be on duty to receive the samples which should be called for on the following morning.

The New York State College of Agriculture has especially prepared three leaflets on the subject of effective vegetable growing for the Victory Garden program.  These leaflets will be available on the evening of Dr. Findlay's lecture in the High School.

Residents not already registered as interested in gardening at local defense headquarters are urged by Mrs. Ludington to do so as soon as possible in order that all information on Victory Gardens may be available to them.  Practical books on the subject are available in both Pelham Public Library and New Rochelle Library, Mrs. Ludington reports as specially recommended 'Home Vegetable Growing,' by Charles H. Nissley and also bulletin 344 'The Home Garden' published by the New York State College of Agriculture, Ithaca, N. Y."

Source:  Lecture By Dr. Findlay, March 16 To Open Victory Gardens Campaign -Mrs. Francis H. Ludington Local Representative in Nation-wide Movement for Victory Vegetable Gardens.  Soil Test Planned for March 18, The Pelham Sun, Mar. 6, 1942, Vol. 31, No. 48, p. 1, cols. 7-8.  

Judges in Pelham Victory Garden Contest Complete Preliminary Tour, But See Need for Progressive and Successive Planting.
Vacation Time May Prove Too Strong Temptation for Some Who Will Neglect Gardens As They Did Last Year.

The inspection of the Pelham Victory Gardens by the judges charged with selecting the winning gardens, continued on Saturday afternoon, when a number of private gardens were visited by A. Jackson Marshall of Pelham and James Stewart and Thomas Atchinson of Mamaroneck.  

They remarked at the active interest which is being shown by property owners who have transformed large sections of lawn space adjoining their homes into kitchen gardens, where a profusion of vegetables is being grown.

'There is a need for successive planting so that crops will be ready for the table all through the Summer,' said Mr. Stewart.  'Most of the gardens will have everything coming ready at the same time.  This is true now of the lettuce crop.  A lot of it is running to seed where successive plantings would have kept a steady growth bringing a constant supply of fresh plants to the table.  Otherwise the efforts of the Victory gardeners are well organized and are being successful.  Many who never before have grown anything have been studying methods of cultivation and are being surprisingly successful.'

The present inspection tour is a preliminary one which will be followed by a second and final one during August.  If the season is dry the inspection will be delayed until the end of the month.  Last year during vacation time many of the gardens were neglected.  This year the Victory Garden Committee is planning to take care of the gardens of absentees.  

Spraying service which is being performed by an employee of the Victory Garden Committee is being done every day with equipment suitable for Victory Gardens.

'We are going to try and make every garden a productive one,' said William B. Shaw, chairman of the Committee, 'and vacationists will have their gardens protected as far as it lies in our power.'"

Source:  VICTORY GARDEN PLANTING SHOULD BE IN ROTATION, The Pelham Sun, Jul. 8,. 1943, p. 1, col. 3.   

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