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Community Gardens

During World War I, the United States government promoted community gardens to supplement and expand the domestic food supply. In 1917 Hershey responded by setting aside six acres of ground in East Hershey [east of Homestead Road, probably bounded on the south by Areba Avenue] for a community farm. Rohrer Snavely was placed in charge. In the March 22, 1917 issue of the Hershey Press, an article said the project planned to hire boys who wanted to learn garden farming while being paid. It appears that the scope of the project changed before it got off the ground. An April 19, 1917 article noted that 18 boys would be cultivating 30 plots of ground in East Hershey. Many of the boys assumed responsibility for 2 plots, while sibling teams were assigned four plots. Their efforts were guided by Rohrer Snavely, who was also responsible for farming the unclaimed plots. Staff from Hershey Men’s Club also helped with advice. Harry Haverstick, Hershey’s chief gardener, also provided advice during the growing season. Enthusiasm for the gardening adventure led to its expansion the following month. The May 3, 1917 issue of the Hershey Press announced that girls were being given their own garden plots. Ground behind the Central Theatre [and in front of the Consolidated School] was prepared for the girls to plant. 31 plots were claimed by 31 girls. Each plot measured 25’x25’. The girls were supervised by Professor Stacy Peters, principal of Hershey Public School, who cultivated 2 plots of his own. The following year the Hershey Press published articles encouraging residents to plant “War Gardens” to help the war effort. There is no documentation that the boys’ and girls’ gardens continued after 1917. Being located in rural central Pennsylvania meant that many Hershey residents kept small family gardens out of tradition. Early photographs of residences reveal beautifully landscaped gardens at every home. The public grounds in Hershey were also noted for their gardens. It was not until the United States entry in to World War II that public encouragement of vegetable gardens resumed in Hershey’s news outlets. The national World War II Victory Garden campaign encouraged people to grow food for personal consumption, recreation and to improve morale. Beginning in 1942 Hershey’s local news publication, Hotel Hershey Highlights, began publishing stories and information about the community’s efforts to support the war effort through gardening. In the spring of 1942, Hershey Estates set aside 4 acres of land that were divided up into garden plots ranging in size from 1500-7000 square feet. 59 families signed up for a garden plot. One dollar per garden plot was charged to cover the cost of harrowing and preparing the garden soil. The gardeners were encouraged to grow vegetables that could be frozen or put up for future use, as well as being consumed as they ripened. As a further incentive, Hershey Volunteer Fire Company offered $15 in prizes for the best and most productive farms. That year the prize was won by Wilson Cake, 222 E. Areba Avenue. Administering the program was a community affair. Sign ups were held in the Community Building, the land was harrowed by Hershey Estates farming employees and the day to day management of the garden plots was handled by the Derry Township High School agricultural department. Both Hershey Estates farming staff and High School staff provided advice to the community gardeners. Hershey’s “Victory Garden” program took off the following year. The available acreage was increased to ten acres, with 250 people assigned garden plots in various locations to increase access. Garden plots were set aside in a least five different locations:
  1. Land bounded by Areba Avenue, Linden Avenue, Cedar Road and Ridge Road
  2. By Spring Creek Church of the Brethren
  3. East and west of 248 E. Granada Avenue
  4. Along Homestead Road, north and south of Areba Avenue
  5. Along the alley north of Parkside Apartments (Arena) and east of the Stadium practice field
Plot sizes were standardized to 1500, 1800 and 2100 square feet, that being the largest size that a family of four could reasonably manage. To help community gardeners be successful, Derry Township High School greenhouse manager, Donald Diffenbaugh, created a pamphlet describing best practices for growing vegetables. These pamphlets were filled with advice about what vegetables to plant, preparation of the soil, harvesting and tips for preserving the vegetables. Also in 1943 the Community Canning Center of Hershey, operating out of the Hershey High School cafeteria, aided the war effort by canning 224 quarts of vegetables produced and donated by various Victory Gardens. In 1944 the program diminished slightly. 204 plots were claimed as more men were in military service, limiting the number of people able to plant a victory garden. In 1945, with the end of World War II in sight, numbers continued to decline. That year 188 people claimed 210 plots. To support and encourage the community’s gardening efforts, Donald Diffenbaugh, offered a one month series of ten lectures on vegetable gardening. Even though World War II came to a close in 1945, Hershey’s Victory Garden program continued in 1946, 1947 and 1948, though each year saw progressively fewer plots claimed. In 1948, only 96 garden plots were claimed. In 1949, the final year of the program, the garden plots were renamed Freedom Gardens, as a way of rebranding the program. That year 125 plots were offered. It is unknown how many plots were actually claimed.

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