At the time of my grandfather Dennis Gilbert’s childhood, World War II was just beginning, and sacrifices had to be made by civilians like him in order to support America’s troops. On top of various materials and tools, such as tires and gasoline, food had to be rationed so that sufficient supplies could be sent to soldiers who were fighting overseas. Although these rations were not debilitating, families usually had little, if any, extra food. Small family gardens were perfect solutions to this food problem. My grandfather assured me that his family would have been fine even if they had not planted a garden each year. Their gardens were simply used to supplement their stores of food. He went on to tell me that their garden produced delicious fresh vegetables that were difficult to obtain in any other way. Because they were such wise investments, family gardens were fairly common during this time. They were small and could be managed by a small team, yet they still produced a fair harvest each year.
Gardens, profitable as they were, required much effort to maintain. Pests, weeds, and disease had to be combated constantly. In addition, the ground had to be marked out, tilled, cultivated, and fertilized on a regular basis. To make matters worse, this work had to be done manually unless expensive farm equipment was available. As a child, my grandfather had to turn the dirt of his family’s garden with a pitchfork, and he and his mom had to cultivate the ground with a hoe before planting. His father was unable to help them, as he worked twelve hour days, six days a week.
These struggles didn’t stop families from gardening, however! In fact, according to my grandfather, the ratio of agriculture- related professions to more urban, technology- focused professions was 50-50. As my grandfather said, “I enjoyed getting out there in the garden and working.” He also told me that his ancestors were farmers, and that “farming was in our blood. … I inherited that.”Part of small time gardening’s success came from the efforts of the national government, which helped convince people to garden. It glorified these gardens, deeming them “Victory Gardens” because they allowed for a greater amount of supplies to be shipped to soldiers fighting in WWII. In my grandfather’s family, young children did not work on the gardens. As he grew up, however, he began to take on most of the gardening responsibility, and all of the hard labor went to him, while his mother helped out in other areas. Fortunately for him, his family moved to Connecticut when he was in high school, and a neighbor named Mr. Knapp helped plow the garden with his tractor. In addition, my grandfather’s dad got a machine called a rototiller, which dramatically helped him till the ground. These machines made work much easier, and they increased the size and productivity of his family’s garden.
Such help as that which my grandfather’s family received was not uncommon. In fact, families in the same neighborhood usually helped each other out when another was going through a tough time. For example, if a family was too sick to work, or if someone in that family was injured, their neighbors would work the garden until they recovered. Families also shared their harvests, and the elderly, especially, were given produce often. Only a few varieties of crops were planted by each family in my grandfather’s neighborhood, so families would trade surplus produce. My grandfather’s neighbors were very fond of growing zucchini, and they gave their extra stores of it to his family. There were a few staple crops that almost everyone grew. These included tomatoes, squash, green beans, corn, cucumbers, beets, bell peppers, and radishes.
After considering common issues in today’s society, my grandfather told me that he feels every family should have a garden. He then continued to tell me that if family members worked together on such a project, they would develop a closer bond with each Gardens have greatly affected Missouri. Cities, communities, and even individuals are different as a result of it. This lifestyle has become a part of our heritage, and as long as there is a single gardener in Missouri, it will always be important. Regardless of how it is conducted, gardening will always play a role in shaping our culture.other. He also explained that young children would come to develop an understanding and appreciation for gardening and hoped that they would eventually begin a similar project with their own families, continuing the cycle. He concluded, “There’s just something about going out and picking garden-fresh tomatoes, cucumbers, or green beans. There’s a sense of accomplishment. It would help teach responsibility to children.” He told me that it is easy to get into gardening, and that there is a variety of gardens that can be grown, such as flower and vegetable gardens.
Gilbert, Dennis. Personal interview. 24 Nov. 2012
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