Extension agents demonstrate how to can tomatoes and green beans, ca. 1920. Courtesy of the Special Collections Research Center, North Carolina State University Libraries.
This year, 2014, marks the 100th anniversary of cooperative extension in North Carolina and Franklin County. The United States Congress enacted the Smith-Lever Act in 1914 to provide information about agriculture and home economics to rural people and to promote its practical application.
It was a time of progressivism, when many people believed that government should play a role in improving the lives of citizens through better education, safer working conditions for laborers, and more attention to health care.
The work of cooperative extension was (and continues to be) carried out nationally by land grant colleges and universities, which had been established in the nineteenth century as a result of the Morrill Acts (1862, 1890).
In North Carolina, these were The Agricultural and Mechanical College for the Colored Race (now North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University), founded in 1891, and the North Carolina College of Agriculture and Mechanic Arts (now North Carolina State University), chartered in 1887.
These schools developed extensive services for children, farmers, and farm wives throughout North Carolina.
Among the initial efforts were tomato clubs for girls and corn clubs for boys.
Home demonstration extension agents organized tomato clubs to help girls learn how to grow, can, and market tomatoes.
In Franklin County, this initiative may have been organized by Miss Pauline Smith, the county's first home demonstration agent. In 1914, 20 girls in the county canned 5,500 cans and jars of tomatoes and sold them for $650. Including sales of fresh tomatoes, they made a profit of $466.
According to a report written about this time and preserved in the papers of Jane Simpson McKimmon at North Carolina State University's Special Collections Research Center, one girl in Franklin County grew her tomatoes on a one-tenth-acre plot.
Two strong mules were used to plow in a ton of barnyard manure. The girl supplemented the manure with forty pounds of F. S. Royster 3-8-3 guano.
Tobacco worms threatened her plants after they had begun to bloom, but she attacked them successfully by spraying the plants with arsenate of lead.
By the end of July, the large crop was ready for table use and for canning. The family served the tomatoes raw, with a little salt, sugar, and vinegar.
Around the first of August, the girl's supervisor showed her how to can the tomatoes, using a homemade canner.
After she boiled the water over an open fire, the girl filled her cans with tomatoes and blanched them in the canner. Once they were cooled in a tub of cold water, the whole family pitched in to peel, pack, tip, and cap the cans.
The result: 300 cans of tomatoes, 100 quarts in glass jars for home use, and 40 quarts of catsup. According to the report, "we had lots of fun and were glad for canning days to come."
Girls and boys clubs evolved into 4-H clubs, which continue to thrive in Franklin County and elsewhere in the state.
The next column will explain some of the ways the Cooperative Extension Service has served area farmers.
Published in The Franklin Times on June 19, 2014.
Maury York is director of the Tar River Center for History and Culture at Louisburg College. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.