In 1943, President Roosevelt had several competing problems to solve; his answer: Victory Gardens. Author Elisa Carbone (Diana’s White House Garden) describes the amazing bit of history this way:
The World War II Victory Garden plan grew out of necessity. There was not enough steel and tin to make both fighter planes and tin cans for vegetables. There were not enough train cars to carry soldiers to the ports and to send food around the country. And with Japan controlling the islands where most of the world’s rubber plants grew, there was not enough rubber for tires for trucks to carry food from the farms to the cities.
The Roosevelts’ plan was a resounding success. In every city and town, vacant land was turned to food production. City parks, suburban and urban yards, vacant lots, and even apartment rooftops were used to grow fruits and vegetables. An estimated 20 million gardens were planted in the U.S., producing between 9 and 10 million tons of food, over 40 percent of all the produce eaten in the United Sates. Community centers offered classes in canning, and the harvest was put away to feed the country during the winter as well.
This bit of history is remarkable in so many ways. Success depended on wide-spread buy-in from the total population based on their shared concern for and desire to support the troops and win the war. The solution wasn’t based on borrowing or over-spending but directly resulted from an honest appraisal of scarcity. People stepped up, across all divides. The solution stemmed from a deep recognition of the interrelatedness of things. People welcomed the opportunity to help. Each of those facts is powerful alone, but together, it marks a remarkable time in history.
What could we do today with buy-in like that among an entire populace? Can we even imagine anymore what it would feel like to be part of a country where everyone was looking for a way to help a global problem by making changes and contributions at a local level? In 1943, the impetus for the action was a desire to feed the troops and help win the war. What will we care enough about to pull together now?