Rethinking American Agriculture: Fertilized Farms and Victory Gardens

Featured Image: A farmer loads his manure spreader in Shelby County, Iowa, 1941. Image from Wikimedia Commons.

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By Anastasia Day and Timothy Johnson

Editor’s NoteThis post is the sixth in the “Seeds: New Research in Environmental History” series cosponsored by NiCHE and Edge Effects, highlighting the work of members of the American Society for Environmental History (ASEH) Graduate Student Caucus. This series serves to highlight new work being done in the field of environmental history and connect this research to other fields and contemporary issues. Graduate caucus members were asked to respond to the following questions: ““How does your work push at the boundaries of current literature and add to existing discussions of the environment/environmental history? What forces drive your research?” 

All environmental history graduate students are encouraged to join the caucus by contacting current student liaison, Zachary Nowak, at

With business interests poised to guide U.S. environmental, energy, and agricultural policy in the upcoming administration, it is imperative for environmental historians to bring the history of corporate capitalism and environment to bear in the twenty-first century. The work of Timothy Johnson and Anastasia Day rests on the premise that agriculture is a uniquely useful site to examine the complex relationship between business, the state, and the natural environment. Both examine the business community’s attempts to “naturalize” capitalism in American society and practice, particularly in regards to agriculture. Timothy Johnson examines how the growth of the commercial fertilizer industry in the late nineteenth century brought American farmers into contact with transnational systems of trade. Anastasia Day discusses how planting a victory garden allowed mid-20th century Americans to participate in the war efforts abroad, and effected changes on the landscape at home.

Read the rest of this article at Edge Effects here >>


Anastasia Day is a history doctoral candidate and Hagley Scholar in Capitalism, Technology, and Culture at the University of Delaware. She identifies as a historian of environment, technology, business, and society, themes that collide uniquely in food. Her dissertation is entitled “Productive Plots: Nature, Nation, and Industry in the Victory Gardens of the U.S. World War II Home Front.” Website. TwitterContact.

Timothy Johnson completed his Ph.D. in American history at the University of Georgia in December 2016. His research examines intersections between business, technology, and environmental history. WebsiteTwitterContact.

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