“Victory gardens” bloom across the 1940s city

One was planted on Park Avenue. Another bloomed on the grounds of the magnificent Schwab mansion on Riverside Drive. A third sprouted in Midtown in the shadow of the Chrysler Building.

Others were tended to in empty lots on Ludlow Street (above), on Upper East Side apartment terraces, and in the open spaces of Brooklyn and Queens.

These victory gardens, as they were called, grew out of a national push during World War II to help ease food shortages in the states, as so much food from America was going to soldiers abroad and our allies.


New Yorkers answered the call. After the program began in 1943, the city had approximately 400,000 victory gardens, which sprouted up on 600 acres of private land.

The biggest crop: tomatoes, followed by beans, beets, carrots, lettuce, and Swiss chard.

VGjohnalbokrockcenter1943An astonishing 200 million pounds of vegetables were cultivated, according to Amy Bentley and Daniel Bowman Simon, who wrote about victory gardens in Savoring Gotham: A Food Lovers Companion to New York City.

Victory gardens were mostly about food. But they had a civic function as well, rallying communities to work together to aid the war effort.

Mayor Fiorello La Guardia even announcing that one would be started on Rikers Island.

VGschwabmansion“We have a lot of space there and a lot of guests too, and we won’t need machinery, because we can make them work,” he cheekily told the New York Times.

Experienced gardeners lent a hand showing urban green thumbs the ropes. “New York University, Columbia University, and the New School all offered courses on Victory Gardening, wrote Bentley and Simon.

Department stores like Macy’s opened gardening centers that held lectures, sold seeds, and even offered war bonds to gardeners who produced bumper crops.

When the war ended, the mini-farms appeared to have been left untended. Of course, they weren’t the last urban gardens to pop up in the city.

But with real estate values sky-high, it might be a long time before we ever see vegetables growing on Manhattan avenues again.

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6 Responses to ““Victory gardens” bloom across the 1940s city”

  1. Jon Phillips Says:

    After the insurance companies and real estate interests had participated in a red-lining pas-de-deux that had left the Bronx burning, leaving vacant lots behind in area where generations had lived, Green Thumb under Ken Davies, planted fields of red-clover, barley, and other crops in the unused land. That was within recent memory (1985-88). So much as it seems that real estate can only go up, remember, a balloon is a man-made bubble, but they work according to the same principles.

  2. biff Says:

    In the early 1990s, I lived in Washington Heights, and folks in the neighborhood were astonished to find a large plot of beautiful, six-foot tall stalks of corn growing in the center divider on Broadway. I would smile every time I passed them. The urban farmer eventually was uncovered, and, naturally, a parks worker threatened him with a summons. A 1991 New York Times piece on the subject is here – http://www.nytimes.com/1991/08/15/nyregion/farmer-unearthed-he-planted-the-corn.html

  3. ephemeralnewyork Says:

    I remember the corn in Washington Heights! It was a lovely summer surprise in the grittier days of the city.

  4. Susie Says:

    This is so interesting! Especially love the pictures!

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