WASHINGTON, D.C. -- In response to the novel coronavirus, President Donald Trump has characterized himself as a "wartime president" and numerous other leaders and commentators have drawn parallels between the fight to control the disease and World War II. Putting aside battle metaphors, there is also an emerging similarity between the two events in Americans' desire to grow their own food.
Many nurseries and seed companies across the country have reportedly struggled to keep up with public demand for vegetable plants and seeds this spring. Quarantined gardeners have started planting beans, leafy greens, tomatoes and lemon trees -- and for one seed supplier, phone inquiries are up 75% this year.
The phenomenon echoes the increase in gardening during World War II, when Americans answered the government's call to plant vegetable gardens -- known as "victory gardens" -- for home consumption while farmers were sending their produce to the soldiers overseas.
Americans Plant Their Way to Victory
Gallup first asked Americans about gardening in April 1942: "Did you have a vegetable garden last year?" At the time, four in 10 said they had planted a garden the previous year. This figure jumped in May 1943, to 53% -- possibly related to the start of food rationing in 1942, as well as Americans' patriotism.
Reports of gardening peaked in 1944 and 1945, with nearly six in 10 Americans saying they had planted vegetable gardens the previous year. After the war, Americans' vegetable gardening habits quickly returned to roughly pre-war levels.
Need for Victory Gardens Seen Among Nearly All Americans
While nearly six in 10 U.S. adults reported planting vegetable gardens during the war, even more said there was a greater need for them. In 1944, 77% of Americans said there was "as much need for victory gardens this year as there was last year" -- and in 1945, 82% said there was "more need" for gardens compared with the previous year.
Despite the widespread planting and acknowledgment of the importance of home gardening during the war, some still opted not to do so. In 1944, Gallup asked the 5% of respondents who said they had planted a victory garden the year before, but elected not to do so again, why they made that choice. These former gardeners mostly cited practical reasons for their decision, with roughly a third citing "no room" for the garden and another 31% saying they lacked the time because of work.
|Have no room now/this year||35|
|Working and have no time||31|
|Wasn't worth the effort/Was a waste of energy||13|
|Going to move||6|
|Operation this year/Not well||6|
|Ground is too poor||4|
|Have chickens and no wire for protection||2|
|Too far out/Sold machine||1|
|Every available minute placed on main crop (farmer)||1|
|My family is split up||1|
|Have not used all I canned last year/Have plenty for this year||1|
|Asked of those who said they had a garden the previous year but weren't planning to have one "this year"|
|Gallup, May 1944|
Americans Remained Fond of Vegetable Gardens, but Off Wartime Highs
Gallup continued to track consumer vegetable gardening after the war and into the 1950s, when rates returned to the pre-war level of roughly four in 10. When the question was revisited in the early 1980s, vegetable gardening remained moderately popular, with 47% of respondents in 1981 reporting that their household had planted a garden.
The current resurgence of the victory garden may be due to Americans' fears of empty supermarket shelves across the country, a surplus of free time for those quarantined at home or perhaps a desire to maximize their social distancing by limiting trips to markets. If Americans' commitment to gardening follows the pattern of WWII, interest in growing vegetables will wane when life returns to normal.
Read more from the Gallup Vault.