Canning clubs began in 1912 in fourteen counties in North Carolina as part of the Home Demonstration program. Early on tomatoes were the primary crop grown and canned. Club members, called tomato club girls, ranged in age from ten to twenty. They planted a one-tenth acre each of tomatoes, and then they sold the fruit to people in their communities. Later in the summer the girls would can their left-over tomatoes for further sale.
The clubs introduced steel as a new technology in home canning. Club agents themselves took classes to learn how to use steel cans, rather than the glass jars with which they were familiar already. The agents, once trained, arranged large canning days at local schools, town centers, and community outdoor spaces. The agents and the tomato club girls assembled hundreds of cans of tomatoes each day. The goal was to teach the girls enough so they could can in their own homes. Once tomato clubs took off they began to incorporate several other fruits and vegetables. The clubs also gained the attention of the girls' mothers and other community members interested in canning their crops.
The clubs taught the girls how to care for small gardens and instructed them in food preservation. They also served as a social activity and a way for girls to make money for themselves and their families.
Club work concluded with the end of a growing season. During the period 1912-1916, at the end of the season the girls produced reports giving their reasons for joining the club and detailing what they did. The reports, called the Tomato Club Booklets, often include girls' hand illustrations and photographs, as well as decorative ribbons used as binding. State Home Demonstration Agent Jane McKimmon may have used these booklets to herald the program's successes to extension agents, college administrators, or legislators.
The Tomato Club Booklets at the North Carolina State Archives are one of the richest sources of information on the initial impact Home Demonstration had on girls and young women in North Carolina. They are more than just reports on gardening; through the reasons given for joining the clubs they include insights into the girls' home lives. Some girls wrote about the tomato clubs as ways of getting out of their houses, supporting their families, and engaging in activities approved by their parents. The booklets also often include recipes written by the girls, as well as reflections on their authors' interests and life goals. Each tomato club booklet is unique. Some are long and detailed, while others are very short. Each one, though, is a look back at the lives of girls of various ages during the 1910s.
Clark, James W. Clover All Over: North Carolina 4-H in Action. Raleigh, NC: Office of 4-H and Youth, North Carolina State University, 1984.
McKimmon, Jane Simpson. When We're Green We Grow. Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 1945.
[author: Emily Pronovost]