BRYAN COUNTY NEWS: Food will win the war

Bryan County Genealogy Library

“The Garden Bureau of the Oklahoma State Council of Defense is pushing its work in every village, hamlet, and urban section of the state. A garden director will be appointed for each of the seventy-seven counties who will answer such inquiries as are not provided for in the farm bulletin issued by the bureau.” The Daily Transcript (Norman), February 11, 1918

After three years of combat the people of Europe were literally starving. Farmers had become soldiers, transportation was diverted to war supplies and troops, fields were abandoned or destroyed by trench warfare, and consumption far exceeded production. When the U. S. finally entered WWI in 1917, President Wilson was faced with the monumental task of continuing to assist our allies while simultaneously feeding our own troops and citizens. The Lever Food Control Act of 1917 authorized him to regulate the “price, production, transportation, and allocation of feeds, food, fuel, beverages, and distilled spirits for the remainder of World War I”.

On August 10, 1917 he established the U. S. Food Administration and put Herbert Hoover in charge of the “conservation, distribution and transportation of food”. “Food Will Win the War” became the national slogan. Citizens were urged to change their eating habits and eat more perishable foods like locally grown fruits and vegetables, thereby freeing up staples such as meat, wheat, fats, and sugar to produce food for shipment overseas to soldiers and allies.

In order to educate the public and assist families with gardening and meal preparation local food boards were created. Instruction booklets were distributed, information was published in the newspapers, canning demonstrations were given, and recipes using substitutes were widely distributed. Liberty Hill’s correspondent reported: “Liberty Hill school had a genuine treat last Thursday evening. We had an address by Mrs. Elizabeth Ward on home canning and home economy in general.”

One of the tasks assigned to garden directors was to locate potential garden plots and match them to volunteers. The plots were sometimes owned by people who weren’t physically able to work them, or they were public lands. The railroads even granted permission for some of their “right of way” properties to be used for crops.

Children were encouraged to participate in the program. They gardened with their parents, and went door to door to distribute information. And they worked in groups at school and in organizations such as the Boy Scouts. In Calera a girl’s club was organized to “do garden work, raising vegetables, etc. to assist Uncle Sam in winning the war”.

March 11-18, 1917 was declared Oklahoma State Gardening Week and the newspapers were filled with incentives and information. The Madill Record reminded residents that gardening was a patriotic duty. Stores advertised seeds and tools. The Caddo Herald editor remarked that “town people would have better health if they did a little more garden work. The Bokchito News suggested: “Let every one of us plant the biggest garden we ever did in our lives.” The Braman Leader printed this motivational poem:

Raise a garden,

Can and dry;

Biff the Kaiser

In the eye.

The “How to Grow” column in Oklahoma newspapers included peas, spinach, cauliflower, kale, onions, watermelons, Brussels sprouts, radishes, lima beans, peppers, parsley, collards, and asparagus. People were also encouraged to raise chickens and hogs.

America’s intense focus on food conservation resulted in a 15% reduction in food consumption. Shipments of food to our allies were doubled and many of the programs created during the war continued long afterwards.

In June of 1918 a survey of war gardens revealed that Oklahoma proudly boasted 338,550.

Bryan County History is a weekly feature contributed by members of the Bryan County Genealogy Library and Archives in Calera. The views and opinions expressed here are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of Texoma Marketing and Media Group. Is there a historic event or topic you want to read about? Contact the library at P.O. Box 153, Calera, OK 74730.