World War I Sustainability

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World War I


When the United States entered World War I, the need for extra food to send oversees to our soldiers and allies became apparent to the authorities in Washington.  In April of 1917 the Boy Scouts launched the campaign using the slogan, "Every Scout to Feed a Soldier".

The goal of this campaign was to get every Scout to conserve food and start a garden of his own.  Scouts who could not start a garden were encouraged to help someone else with theirs.  The important thing was to increase production, while decreasing consumption.  "Grub Scouts", as they were referred to, were also encouraged to get ten or more friends and neighbors to start gardens and conserve food.  Many troops and councils started large gardens in which all local Scouts worked together.

Soon after this program was started, the National Headquarters received a cablegram from London.  Future President Herbert Hoover, at that time head of the food relief program in Europe, sent the following message:

"The prime service of our Country in this War is ships and food, and we can here display the true American ability at great efforts.  In order to provide the food necessary we must from this moment eliminate all waste and stimulate food production at every point.  We must send to our Allies more wheat, corn, beans, meat, bacon and lard than we have ever sent before if the men are to fight and their woman and children to live; and our people must economize and eat other things.  Among these food-stuffs, could not the Scouts take as their province to the stimulation of bean production, for there is not only a great shortage at Europe and at home, but they are the best of foods.  Let them help make America able to export ten times as many beans as she ever exported before.

To do this, let the Boy Scouts see to it that beans are being planted everywhere, so that the biggest bean crop ever known shall be the war contribution of the Boy Scouts to America and her Allies."
Scouting, 07/1917

Most Scouting and Boys Life magazines in 1917 and 1918 featured articles of Grub Scouts in action, along with other articles and ads encouraging others to get involved.  Articles written by Hal B.  Fullterton, Chief Grub Scout, and others covered a wide range of gardening topics including: insect control, fertilizing, crop selection and overall care.  Other articles also covered Pig, Poultry, and Fish Raising.  The Department of Agriculture even prepared a special issue of Scouting Magazine to devote attention to the food production program, of which 100,000 copies were made available.

By the end of the war, over 12,000, Scouts had participated in War Gardens, and food production, producing thousands of bushels of much needed food.

Grub Scout pins and medals for gardening were awarded to those Scouts and Scouters who participated in this campaign.

Black Walnut Location and Planting

On April 25, 1918, the National Headquarters of the Boy Scouts of America received another request for help from President Woodrow Wilson.  The request was to locate as many Black Walnut trees as they could find.  The Boy Scouts went beyond this request and decided to plant 3 new trees for every tree harvested.

The White House

"In order to carry out the programs of the War Department it is the utmost important that large quantities of Black Walnut Lumber should be secured for its uses.  Black Walnut is used by the Ordnance Department for the manufacture of gun stocks and by the Signal Corps of the manufacture of propellers for Battle and Bombing Airplanes.

The location of Black Walnut Trees, the names of the owners, the size of the trees and the price at which they can be purchased is greatly desired.  It is believed that the organization of the Boy Scouts of America is particularly well constituted for obtaining this information.  There are no longer any large individual lots of walnut timber but there is a very large supply when collected into groups or centers; at the present time there are to be found only a few trees here and there scattered over the whole United States east of the Rocky Mountains.

I, therefore, appeal to the well known loyalty of your organization to secure for the Government this desired information.  In securing data, the owners of the Black Walnut timber should be advised of our pressing needs and they should be requested to show their patriotism by doing all in their power to assist their Government in this Great War."

Not only did the Boy Scouts locate Black Walnut Trees, National Scout Headquarters stressed that Scouts should plant at least 3 new trees for every one that the government took.

The Government printing office printed and circulated special information sheets and report blanks to thousands of Scouts throughout the country, and they were off on their new project.

By the end of the War, Scouts had located 20,758,660 feet of standing Black Walnut, enough to fill 5,200 railroad cars.  Over 109,250 trees were harvested and 325,000 Black Walnut trees were planted.

Fruit Pit Collecting

One of the less known drives that the Boy Scouts were involved in was the collecting of Fruit Pits and Nut Shells, as requested in the following letter from the acting Secretary of War:


The splendid record of accomplishment in the Boy Scouts of America program of war work activities is well known to the officials of the War Department.  The effectiveness of your efforts to help win the War is, as President Wilson says, "a convincing testimonial to the value of organized boyhood".  Your membership of 442,000 carefully selected men and especially trained boys covering practically every part of the United States, offers an asset for an immediate piece of worthwhile service of great value to the nation at this critical hour in the world’s history.

The materials needed for the manufacture of gas masks are not available through the ordinary sources of supply in sufficient quantities to keep pace with the rapidly increasing strength of our armed forces across the sea.  It is the purpose of the War Department to give each of our men, as well as, to the men of our allied forces, every possible advantage of physical equipment to aid in preserving life.

The gas masks which are being manufactured in this country for the men of the American Army are giving the fullest protection to the men wearing them.  The Boy Scouts have an opportunity to assist in the continuation of this high degree of efficiency.

With the cooperation of your executive officers a plan has been developed whereby each of you man have a definite part in this important piece of service.  These plans will doubtless be explained in detail by your Chief Scout Executive.  An effort has been made to make it possible for every Scout and Scout official to participate in this war activity so that as in other campaigns your troop records will show 100% participation.

What an inspiring thing it is for the nation to realize it has as a definite asset this large group of earnest Scouts under efficient leadership, all anxious to have a definite part in winning the war for freedom, democracy, liberty, and justice.

Cordially Yours,
(signed) Benedict Crowell
ACTING Secretary of War.

A special material could be created by burning fruit pits, and nut shells, and was used in the filters of gas masks.

The following fruit pits and nut shells were used:

  • Prune Pits
  • Cherry Pits
  • Brazil Nut Shells
  • Apricot Pits
  • Hickory Nut Shells
  • Plum Pits
  • Olive Seeds
  • Walnuts and Butter Nuts
  • Date Seeds
  • Peach Pits and Stones

During the fall of 1918, Scouts collected over 100 railroad cars full of fruit pits, and nut shells, enough to make over 500,000 gas masks.

Food and Coal Conservation

Food and fuel consumption was another war in which the Scouts helped out.  Extra effort was given not to waste food, even changing eating habits so certain foods like wheat, and meat, could be sent overseas to our soldiers.

At the request of Herbert Hoover, Scouts went and encouraged people to pledge a certain amount of food consumption.

The Boy Scouts also ran a drive to burn wood, so that coal could be conserved.

Gardening Medal

The Boy Scouts gave a special Gardening Medal to Scouts who participated in the gardening program during 1917 and 1918.

The 1917 requirements were that the Scout had to successfully conduct a garden of his own and induce nine other people to do the same, or increase their acreage. Approximately 214 of these awards were issued in 1917.

In 1918, the requirements were changed to the following:

  1. The Scout shall work not less than sixty days during the season and for a total of not less than one hundred hours. During this time he shall be under the supervision of someone competent to direct.
  2. The Scout shall induce one adult not likewise engaged in food production or conservation to work with him or with some other person in the production or conservation of food during this period.
  3. The Scout shall submit to his Scoutmaster, in writing, a plan of the work which he will undertake to do. He shall carry out the plan as approved by the Scoutmaster, unless prevented by causes beyond his control. He shall not allow his crop nor animals to suffer for the lack of any attention they should have.
  4. The Scout shall secure the recommendation of his Scoutmaster, (and of the local council, if his troop is under the jurisdiction of a local council) and of the nearest representative of the United States Department of Agriculture, stating that he has fully met the requirements and is entitled to receive the award.

    The candidate for this award may work on his own or any other private farm or garden, or on a farm or garden conducted by a patrol, troop, local council, or camp established for food production and conservation, provided such a farm or garden is maintained under proper supervision, approved by the National Council.

    He may receive credit for raising pigs or other food animals, poultry or bees with definite motive of aiding food production and conservation with a view toward helping win the war.

    The award will be based upon a report made by the Scoutmaster through his local council or court of honor; or if not under a local council, then upon the recommendation of his troop committee and the recommendation of the local representative of the United States Department of Agriculture, who shall countersign all recommendation meeting his approval.

    The 1917 medal was also awarded in the 1918 campaign.

    It was also announced in the August 1918 issue of Scouting Magazine that every troop in which every member earns the gardening medal would receive a special war service emblem. It was also announced that the troop and council which started and successfully conducted the most gardens would receive special recognition.