Wednesday, April 04, 2018

Wartime skirmishes in Lucas County's victory gardens

U.S. involvement in World War I was accelerating a century ago this spring --- and increasing numbers of American troops were putting their lives on the line in Europe.

Back home, civilians were looking for ways to help the war effort. Some were knitting sweaters for soldiers, others were rolling bandages or leading war bond drives. And then there were the Victory Gardens.

George Washington Carver, down at the Tuskegee Institute, had coined the term. The idea was, if every scrap of compatible land was planted to edibles, these gardens would reduce war-time pressure on the public food supply. They also were morale-builders. Nearly every able-bodied person could plant a garden, if ground were available, and thus feel a part of the war effort.

In Chariton, the Gardens Committee of the Commercial Club took charge of the effort with Alfred H. "Alf" Timmins, a respected clothier, as its chairman. This involved locating scraps of land suitable for gardens, then pairing them with prospective gardeners. The garden sites were free, but there was to be a small charge for the initial plowing.

Alf prevailed upon both The Leader and The Herald-Patriot to publish several free front-page notices during the spring of 1918 to promote the garden scheme, commencing on March 14 with one headed, "Food Will Win the War!"

There were a few bumps in the road during the earliest days of the Victory Garden effort, however. Marauding chickens, still ranging free from backyard coops across the city of Chariton in 1918, were one. 

On March 21, Alf was back with an announcement that offending poultry --- and owners --- would be prosecuted to the full extent the law provided if these chickens were not confined.

And then there were the gossips who threatened to undermine the effort by spreading the false rumor that this garden business was just a scheme by the Commercial Club to enrich itself and that a $5 charge would be assessed for the use of garden plots, then flow into the club treasury.

The source of this falsehood apparently were notices published earlier in the month by attorney Frank Q. Stuart. Stuart had a number of garden spots available on family land --- but announced in print that these would would be rented for $5 each, payable to him, and were not part of the Victory Garden effort.

In this instance, the Commercial Club deployed its big gun --- Horace G. Larimer, chair of Chariton's Council of Defense, who announced in The Leader and The Patriot during early April that those who spread this false rumor would, if they persisted, "face a complaint to the Federal Government, charging them with giving aid and comfort to the enemy."

After that, peace was restored to the garden front, fresh vegetables flowed from Victory Gardens to tables across Chariton and, come November, the allies did indeed win the war. 

The Victory Garden concept then was retired until the outbreak some 20 years later of World War II. By this time, the number of free-ranging chickens had declined and many of the World War I-era gossips had passed to their final rewards.

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