As we struggle in a pandemic and hunger crisis, let's remember the powerful force that helped get us through World War II. It was an army spread across the country that could sprout up anywhere: gardeners.
During World War II, citizens planting Victory Gardens helped build America's food supply. Victory Gardens were critical for families and the war effort. With more food being produced, more could be sent overseas to feed the troops and the allies. Gardening also boosted spirits.
After the war, Secretary of State George Marshall, a gardener himself, told a conference of growers, "You, through your various organizations, made a great contribution during the war in the Victory gardens, a very important contribution."
Even though the war was over, Victory Gardens were still needed to win the peace. There were food shortages in Europe, which were causing major instability. In 1947, Marshall, who was chief of the Army during the war, proposed the European recovery program known as the Marshall Plan. But hunger in Europe would derail it, unless we took action.
Americans were urged to conserve food which would allow more to be sent overseas to feed the hungry.
Marshall told the gardeners in 1948, "food today is just as vital, probably a little more so, a factor as it was during the war years... anything that can be done to stimulate on the part of the individual the growing of food in local gardens should be done and it will be tremendously helpful to meet the great problem that is now before us. It has a direct relationship, a very direct relationship, to the European recovery program."
Food from America led the way toward Europe's reconstruction. Americans can be proud of the role they played through Victory or Freedom gardens and sending CARE packages of food to hungry Europeans.
Gardening today can also play a vital role in helping us through the coronavirus pandemic. Many Americans are feeling the economic impact of the virus and gardening is one way to keep household food supplies up.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture says, "For every $1 dollar spent on seeds and fertilizer, home gardeners can grow an average of $25 worth of produce."
Families who receive food stamps can use those benefits to get seeds to build their own home garden. USDA explains, "Growing food from seeds and plants makes SNAP benefits last longer, allowing recipients to double the value of their benefits over time. Supplementing SNAP with homegrown food makes it possible for families to buy food products that they wouldn’t normally be able to afford."
Every successful garden helps a family boost their food supply and overall budget. The better off each family is, the more they can do to help others who are suffering in hunger.
The Coronavirus has escalated hunger at home and overseas. Food banks in America are overwhelmed with demand. The global hunger pandemic may lead to famine in nations already suffering food shortages from war and climate change.
Congress has to take action to increase food aid at home and overseas. They should extend the pandemic EBT program though the summer to provide food to children who are missing free school meals because of the coronavirus closings. Pandemic EBT provides a benefits card to impoverished families so they can buy extra groceries. But it only covers the school year so we must extend it through summer to prevent child hunger during this pandemic.
Gardening could be encouraged too with this pandemic EBT or SNAP benefits.
School and community gardens are also part of the USDA McGovern-Dole program that feeds hungry school children in impoverished countries. Congress needs to expand McGovern-Dole overseas to help the World Food Program, Catholic Relief Services, Save the Children, CARE and others provide take home rations during this pandemic.
We can overcome this hunger pandemic and gardening is one of the vital tools.
William Lambers is an author who partnered with the UN World Food Program and Catholic Relief Services on the book "Ending World Hunger."