by Sherri Goudy
During the first 3 years of WWI, prior to US entering, the food supply in Europe had diminished and the allies were facing starvation. War had transformed fields with crops into battlefields and distribution of imported foods had been halted by the irregularity of transportation. So, what could the citizens of America do for the allies in Europe, especially when food supplies in the US were short as well?
As America entered the war on April 2, 1917 the rally to increase food supply for both the US and our allies began immediately. As was happening across the US, Springfield newspapers were flooded with daily articles asking its citizens to conserve food, increase planting, and limit their intake of meats, sugar, and grains. Political cartoons showed images of wasteful Americans and that the world’s food shortage was on our shoulders.
On April 6th, the Secretary of Agriculture had asked all of America to “do his or her bit” to plant gardens wherever they could, even in vacant city lots.
City officials in Springfield immediately began plans for these Victory Gardens and to encourage “every available lot for cultivation.”
Every man, woman and child was asked to participate in this effort to generate food supply. President Wilson expected that each citizen would participate in the “great civilian army” doing their part to cultivate the land and proving that without their “whole-hearted services, ‘mere fighting would be useless.’”
The Boy Scouts planned a national planting day on April 21st
and it was predicted in the Springfield paper that the War could end “in the backyard of this city” with women having the “opportunity to do her ‘bit’ in [the] garden, kitchen, and market.
By the end of April, land cultivation was in full swing, and focus began to also include conserving meats and grains and even fasting on certain days. Tips in one article include being thrifty by “buying enough and allowing no wastage from table,” preparing meals with cheaper ingredients, and taking note of “how much of such staples as flour, sugar, milk, cooking fat, etc. Is used each week for a month and seeing if there are any ways of cutting down the quantity needed.” Articles and advice columns covered entire pages which included menu options for “meatless days,” ways to feed a family of eight with one dollar, and “war bread” – a more economical bread, using other grains and ingredients in place of white flour.
In early May, fasting as requested by the Catholic Church in Cincinnati, was asked “for [the] good of nation.”
And the call for national prohibition to conserve the nations grain supplies.
Everyone was concerned with the food situation in the US and abroad, and it was each person’s patriotic duty to do whatever was necessary to feed our allies.
Crop planting continued to be a major concern in May, as well as the impending issue of rural farms suffering from lack of farmers as more land was being utilized for cultivation and the draft and volunteer enlistment began. The Secretary of Agriculture addressed these issues and wanted to ensure that men rejected from military and naval duties could be called to “agricultural service.”
Another article on the front page of the Springfield paper asked people who were planning vacations to give up their vacation time to support the local rural farming initiative.
Other articles gave advise from the local horticultural society on what crops to plant.
Springfield was well known at that time as a center for manufacturing agricultural implements. The local newspaper wrote on May 6th, 1917 that “Springfield [would] play an important part in planting of grain and cultivation of crops… in the great effort to increase the food supply of the United States.”
Please check back next week for part 2 of this post! As always, leave a comment because we want to know what you think.