When America entered World War I, it was not prepared. President Wilson’s program of providing aid, but still remaining neutral, had inspired a complacent atmosphere. The Declaration of War changed that. It was a time when most farmers still relied on horses, and the expected five-fold increase in agricultural production meant longer hours and better equipment. Seed grain was needed, large acreages needed plowing. This would all take time. In addition, farm machinery was difficult to obtain, and the cost of pig iron and the steel casings needed to manufacture new implements was rising dramatically. Then there was the shortage of skilled factory labor.
With the young men going off to war, there would also be an intense shortage of farm labor. To address that, many areas within the state were forming organizations, with names like the Mouse River Valley Immigration Bureau, to encourage immigration.
But food production in North Dakota was not only for the farmer. War gardens were springing up in communities across the state. In Garrison, the Mayor plowed up his lawn and planted it to potatoes and corn. A local banker, also a city official, followed suit, and soon every square foot of tillable ground in Garrison had been planted to gardens. In Grand Forks, the high school had a summer agricultural training class and provided a garden on the school grounds. Students received credits for participating in the program, with each one responsible for a half-acre plot. Over one hundred students were taking part.
Food conservation was also part of the war effort. Louis Moothart of Cando was a crack shot with a rifle, and in a two-month period he had managed to kill or wound over nine hundred Richardson ground squirrels, commonly called Flickertails. Based on the loss of a bushel of grain per critter, not including all of the off-spring these rodents would produce, his prowess with a rifle saved nine hundred bushels of grain. At $2.00 per bushel, over eighteen hundred dollars was added to the local economy for the war effort.
Then there was the story of the city lad in North Dakota who wanted to do his bit to help with the war by raising potatoes. He was a little distraught when an Extension bulletin indicated that potatoes were supposed to be raised in hills. His yard was perfectly flat. Of course the name of the city where he lived was not provided, for this was that proverbial kind of guy who always lived over in the next county.
Dakota Datebook by Jim Davis
“Farm Machinery Is Very Scarce,” The Wahpeton Times, June 28, 1917
“Mayor Plows Up Yard,” The Bismarck Tribune, June 21, 2017
“Summer Courses for Gardens,” Grand Forks Herald, June 11, 1917
Grand Forks Herald, June 20, 1917