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How gardeners helped feed the nation in WW1

Posted on March 20, 2014 by Potter & Rest

Before 1916 growing your own food and having an allotment wasn’t as popular as you might have thought.

However, as the war progressed, in line with the Defence of the Realm Act (DORA) passed in 1914, the Cultivation of Lands order was passed under Lloyd George’s coalition government, and the nation took up Grow Your Own in a big way.

This meant that unoccupied land, such as railway land, could be used for cultivation and this sparked a wave of ‘allotmentitis’, as it was called at the time.

In 1917 model plots were set up in various green spaces, for example Kensington Gardens, to help new gardeners learn how to grow their own food.

By 1918 it was estimated there were 1.5 million plots and due to the rising prices of vegetables, demand continued well into 1919. One of the most popular veggies to be grown during this period was the humble spud.

It wasn’t just the hungry folk at home that needed good food, by the end of the war the British Army was made up of 5,363,352 people worldwide and 2,360,400 of those were on the Western Front. To feed them, 12,000 officers and 320,000 men – the size of the British Army drafted to the continent at the outbreak of war – was needed.

There is a popular misconception that the food in the trenches was poor, but recent research has shown the nutritional value of the grub served up was good. In fact, the food offered to the soldiers was far superior to what many of them were used to at home.

In Britain, away from the fighting, lots of people went hungry as the German naval blockades stopped food supplies from getting in. A typical working class family of two adults and at least one child would eat 3lb 6oz of beef or mutton a week, along with 19lb 8oz of bread and just over 25lb of potatoes between them. Potatoes being the mainstay of a family’s weekly diet.

Meanwhile, in the trenches soldiers needed more than 4,000 calories a day and potatoes helped the army march on its stomach. One of the most popular dishes was a modern idea: egg and chips!

Thinking about growing your own spuds this year? Check out our specially priced collection of WW1 heritage varieties that are just as tasty today as they were when our great grandparents were eating them.

Tags: potatoes, WW1
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