World War I in Lawrence: Gardening movement gains momentum

In the months leading up to the U.S. entry into the war, there were a few articles in local newspapers mentioning the high cost of living and suggesting ways to combat it. On March 1, 1917, Lawrence’s Mayor Francisco began to organize groups in an attempt to use the city’s vacant lots for gardening (and, incidentally, to provide an activity for boys on their summer vacation). Citizens fully backed the idea, with J. D. Bowersock offering all the vacant lots he owned for gardening purposes, and W. H. Pendleton volunteering free tomato seeds and a $10 prize for “best tomato raised.” The extension department of the “State Agricultural college” also weighed in with advice on “when, what, and how to plant, cultivate, and preserve the crops.”

After the U.S. entered the war, the gardening movement gained more momentum. On April 9, KU’s Chancellor Strong, believing that the University as a state institution should “do all in its power to solve the food problem,” suggested using a portion of the campus for farming and gardening, possibly with the help of student labor.

Responding to food-shortage predictions, Mr. W. H. Pendleton of the Kaw Valley Cannery put out a call in late April for “small quantities of vegetables that the citizens of Lawrence [would] raise in their gardens in excess of their summer needs.” Canned tomatoes were in such high demand that Pendleton offered about 3,000 tomato plants for Lawrence gardeners.

By April 25, Lawrence’s donated vacant lots had been snapped up by gardeners, and it was surmised that the city would be raising “all food possible within its limits this summer.” Local women were beginning to show interest in forming “canning clubs” to help preserve the summer’s bounty.