Many people are at least familiar with the Victory Gardens of World War II, but a generation earlier, the federal government, in a nearly identical program, urged citizens to plant gardens and raise as much food as possible.
Richmond’s effort was spearheaded by the War Garden committee of the Commercial Club. Even before the United States entered the war, a “Civic Gardening Association” had been formed under the direction of the the board of education. It hired a “garden supervisor of the public schools” named E. F. Murphy. By the end of the season it was estimated that there were more than 500 gardens across the city producing food valued at $5000. The Commercial Club was determined that the following season would be even bigger.
In early April 1918, “Gardener Murphy” announced that the Commercial Club had secured the services of an International Harvester tractor to plow up vacant lots all over the city so that all available unused ground could be put to work growing food. By the middle of May he reported that nearly every student in the city had been enrolled as a “war gardener,” making Richmond officially a “War Garden City.”