Inside the Capitol

Friday, October 28, 2005

11-02 Food Will Win the War

WED, 11-02-05

Syndicated Columnist

SANTA FE -- Much recognition has been given to New Mexicans' World War II effort fighting on foreign soil. But New Mexicans also contributed greatly to the winning the war on our own soil.
Many of our state's farmers and ranchers were asked to stay home because producing food and other valuable commodities was as essential to winning as any other component of America's war machine.
Millions already had starved from the Japanese ravaging of China. Thousands more died of starvation in the sieges of Stalingrad and Leningrad. And German U-boats were sinking large numbers of our food supply ships on their way to Europe.
In the final months of the war in the Pacific, Operation Starvation was slowly decimating the Japanese. Had we not dropped the atom bombs, killing 200,000, our agricultural experts estimated over seven million deaths from starvation during the next year.
Food production and distribution strategy ranks right up there with military strategy in time of war. Available food supplies were allocated among civilians, the military and our Allies. Servicemen were sent 50 percent more. Part of the reason was the difficulty in getting the food to them.
New Mexico's railroads assisted in that effort, giving top priority to transportation of food. They also helped train a military unit at Clovis to run the trains of Europe. On the coasts, Liberty Ships were hurriedly being built to convoy the food to foreign shores.
At home, food production goals were established for all crops and livestock products, depending on military needs. Farmers and ranchers were provided with the latest scientific knowledge about production and conservation by agricultural extension agents.
As production was increased for the troops, food at home was rationed. "Meatless" and "wheatless" days gave way to "point-rationing" of meats, fats, cheese and milk. A "blue-stamp" program was instituted to control consumption of more than 200 processed food items. Then came War Ration Books that imposed additional restrictions.
But even more food production for the troops became necessary. It was a tall order because many additional farm workers were being called by the draft. Victory Farm Volunteer youth programs, such as 4-H, were organized to pick crops after school and on weekends. The Women's Land Army was begun in 1943.
My Cub Scout troop, in Deming, picked cotton for 10-cents a bag, with the money going to the war effort. My father's Lions Club helped farmers weed and harvest their bean crops. They received $1.25 an acre, with the money going to the War Fund drive.
That still wasn't enough, so in 1944, prisoners of war were moved into the food production effort. Branch camps sprang up in farming communities throughout the state. But Geneva Convention regulations imposed numerous restrictions on the nations that observed them. So an agreement was reached with Mexico establishing the Bracero program to bring Mexican farm workers across the border.
Do you remember Victory Gardens? That program began in early 1942 to encourage Americans to grow as much of their own food as possible. Gov. John E. Miles got things going in New Mexico as soon as the growing season began, declaring that "every vegetable that grows in our gardens should be regarded as a defense plant."
Local businesses sponsored contests for who could grow the most and biggest. My father was from a farming family, so we had a big Victory Garden that I spent a great amount of time weeding. By 1943, there were an estimated two million victory gardens in the nation. In 1944, that number doubled.
Americans shy away from fats now, but they were important in the war effort. Butchers would pay two red points a pound for used fats. Grease became a weapon of war because grease makes glycerin, which makes gunpowder.
With four million fewer people on farms and ranches than in World War I, America produced 50 percent more food in World War II. Rural New Mexico was an important part of that effort.



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