by Robert Hanaford Smith, Sr.
Weirs Times Contributing Writer
In the Spring of 1933, needy New Hampshire families agreed to plant 5,771 gardens in response to the Emergency Garden Campaign conducted by the University of New Hampshire Extension Service at the request of Governor John G. Winant, and Eunice E. Patch, the Director of Unemployment Relief.
The year 1933 is said to have been the worst during The Great Depression and the United States responded with extraordinary efforts undertaken to combat the resultant unemployment and poverty. According to a March 1934 bulletin issued by the extension service the purpose of the campaign was “…to help unemployed and distressed people to raise some of their own food. Men who were sitting hopelessly in tenements, young men who were lounging at street corners, women who were at their wit’s end to get enough wholesome food for their children, seized the opportunity, which took them out to soil and fresh air and supplied them with the necessary materials and guidance.”
At a time when up to one out of three potential workers was unemployed this plan was also designed to “…conserve public funds.” The emergency garden differed from the Victory Gardens of the first and second World Wars which were introduced to help supply food not available because of lack of manpower in the States because of military service. Our fighting men needed to be fed and the workers needed to grow and process food in the homeland had been depleted by wartime demands. My guess is that many who have heard of the Victory Gardens, and perhaps had one, are unaware of the emergency gardens during The Depression.
According to the Extension Service report, written by Director J.C. Kendall, only those who were receiving “public or semi-public” aid were considered eligible to benefit from the program. The federal government initially provided $ 16,000 towards the program and added additional funds for the purpose of canning jars and jar rings. Local agents were appointed to supervise activities in cities and towns, and agencies such as the Red Cross, Salvation Army, Family Welfare and Chamber of Commerce also cooperated to make the campaign a success.
While this column is specifically about New Hampshire gardens in 1933 it should be noted that the federal government provided 3 billion dollars nation-wide through the Federal Emergency Relief Administration during the worst years of the depression for gardening projects. They were called relief gardens, welfare gardens, assistance gardens, or by some other title and were run by State and local authorities.
New Hampshire’s Emergency Garden Report for 1933 indicated that there were three types of state supported gardens.The Community Gardens grown in some cities raised vegetables which “…were cultivated by the unemployed to help pay for assistance given their families by the city, the crops to be given out during the winter. Other localities sponsored Group Gardens “…where large tracts of land were prepared , laid out in garden plots of 50×50 or 50×100 feet and assigned to an individual who would have the amount raised”. The third type was called a Home Garden “…where the individual had land available for a garden either at home or in the neighborhood.”
The Extension Service kept detailed records of the relief program and reported on the success of it. All ten counties with a total of 179 towns participated in the garden project with Carroll County counting the fewest number of gardens at 194, followed by Belknap with 264, and Hillsboro County having the most emergency gardens with 1,260, followed by Sullivan with 783. Special help was given to 2,403 women by canning experts to assist them in preserving the vegetables produced in their gardens. Local leaders and the gardeners themselves were asked to judge the success of their gardens with the result being that the leaders gave a more favorable report than the gardeners.They were asked to rate the gardens as being good, poor, or fair, or note if they never planted a garden. The leaders classified about 68% of the gardens “good” and 24% “fair” while the gardeners thought only 35% of them were “good” though 50% were “fair”. Of 3,860 gardeners reporting that 63 of them said that their gardens were of no value at all, most because they were never planted.
The Extension Service calculated that the cost per garden from public funds in the year 1933 in the State of New Hampshire was $4.93. A variety of vegetables seeds and plants were given to the cooperating gardeners for this relief project with the produce grown to be used both for use during the summer and fall and canned and stored for winter use. The estimated value of all canned and stored products from the state’s emergency gardens was $ 152,723.66. The average yield value of all gardens was estimated at $57.55.
State Extension Director Kendall concludes “That the Emergency Relief Gardens paid high dividends in morale, peace of mind, and genuine happiness, is attested by the hundreds of letters received from the gardeners.” One letter said “ Your service has done a great deal to lighten the burden of the depression for us; and we know it has for many, many others.”
Robert Hanaford Smith, Sr, lives in New Hampton.