An Emergency Home Demonstration Agent was hired in 1933 in Columbus County to help families on the dole plant gardens and home can foods. Extension enlisted volunteers and supplied the teaching, the vegetable seeds, and the equipment for canning. Families did the work and were encouraged to grow and preserve enough fruit and vegetables to supply their needs all winter long. Here is the report of Sarah J. Williams, Emergency Home Demonstration Agent in Columbus County from May 1 to Sept. 3, 1933.
At the beginning of the Emergency Work in May, Home Demonstration work was at a low ebb. Communities were feeling the depressed condition keenly. Work was opening but the over crowded conditions and low wages made conditions worse, and Negroes all over the county were wondering just what could be done and how they would be able to feed their families, pay rents, and buy wood with their scanty pay roll.
Seed had been given to 887 families, still those most needing seed also needed work and women, girls, and in many cases entire families had left their various communities and scattered over different sections of the county berry fields, which was their only means of a livelihood.
Owing to crowded conditions of the fields, many were compelled to be contented with 10, 15, and 20 cents a day. Many land lords, not knowing whether their berry sales would bring profits that would justify a raise of wages, gave the pickers meal, meat, potatoes, peas, molasses and vegetables, which made it possible for them to live and pick their berries for 1 penny a quart.
In many communities, especially those with most relief families, it seemed that organizations were impossible, however, the agent visited homes, fields, churches and other gatherings and enrolled all who had received seed and made it plain that as soon as they reached their homes they were expected to plant a garden and to plant repeatedly until they had vegetables enough for their daily needs and to can for the winter.
In 12 communities not organized, we organized garden and canning clubs. In each of these communities we selected a leader. In 20 of the organized communities, we selected county wide leaders. Most of these leaders failed to serve when they learned that other counties were paying leaders from the R.F.C. Fund and not much was accomplished.
County workers, vis, Red Cross, Women’s Clubs, Health Doctor, County Auditor have cooperated beautifully. The success of the work as been largely dependent on their cooperation. An attitude of cooperation has been shown by all relief people. All land lords we came in contact have been kind, cooperative and willing to do something to help conditions.
In 28 communities, visits were made, many plans suggested, instructions given on the best way to meet exisiting conditions. It was decided that a garden would solve the problem, then ‘a good garden for every family’ was the slogan in every home, field, tobacco barn, society and churches. All ministers, society leaders, land lords, and insurance men and all persons of influence began to talk of gardens, until 887 families boasted of a spring garden, although some of these were planted as late as June 15. Then our county was visited with heavy rains and extremely hot weather and gardens over the county were either scorched, dried up or drowned. Families were urged to replant. Seeds were give again and lima beans, corn, potatoes, pole beans, peas, okra, carrots, tomatoes, cabbage, turnips, beets, collards and squash were planted and in a few days gardens were again looking fine. Home canners in 264 families reported July 15 that their gardens were supplying their daily needs and vegetables to can for winter.
196 winter gardens have been planted of kale, turnips, rutabagas, collards, onions and salads.
There seems to be a better possibility of families getting a certain part of their living from what they produce than they have before because of the interest manifested in gardens in 1933.
I suggest that farmers plant wheat and more rice in Columbus County, set more fruit trees and get interested in the prevention of fires, conserve wild berries because they play a great part helping to feed the family. In 1930 over 8,000 quarts of huckleberries were conserved in the county and in some families they were the only fruit canned for winter use, and to plant something every month in the year to be able to get an early start in gardens in 1934.
It was not until July 24 we were able to open a community cannery in the county. On this date, after spending two thirds of the day getting ready, we opened with one wash pot, one lard stand, one steam pressure cooker, one can sealer and a few pans. We canned 200 cans of fruits and vegetables.
On the 27th at the County Training School at Mt. Olive we opened another cannery. This was very encouraging as old club members from Cedar Grove and Mt. Olive turned out in large numbers bringing wash pots, lard stands and wood and canned 400 cans. At Bolton two days were devoted to community canning. At Delco two days were spent in canning peaches. Peaches were canned in large quantities by relief families and home canners. 6,216 quarts of peaches have been reported. Strawberry growers give pickers access to their fields as soon as the season is over. A cannery at this season properly managed and adequately equipped will go a long way towards helping with the food problem.
Women in communities that did community canning seemed delighted and the enthusiasm shown was very encouraging. I advise a community cannery. I feel sure that to confer the association of Negro Home and Farm Demonstration Clubs of Columbus County, N.C., and a few other Negros [with needed supplies], a cannery can be established that would take care of the food needs in the county in 1934 and thereafter.
I feel that there are Negro men in Columbus if given the initiative and time to do something that will see that something is done towards securing adequately equipment for 1934.
Pellagra situation is much improved from what it was in 1930. We never find a patient in families with a garden, milk cow, and a sufficient number of chickens, neither those using pure lard and home made meats.
When we find a family with pellagra we talk of their diet. We talk with their neighbors and some with a cow gives milk, others vegetables and see that some thing is added regularly to the diet until the patient himself can see that lack of proper food is the cause of the trouble. Then we talk of gardens, a cow and other foods until the patient clearly sees and feels that a change of diet will help him and sometimes they think that their life will be spared if only they were able to “eat right” as they say.
Sometimes we are able to put it so plain we change whole neighborhoods. Our greatest difficulties lie in not being able to supply the right diet until patients can see and try to help themselves. I am not able to suggest a remedy for this.
The ten leaders that volunteered and helped us so nicely, I must say helped the work succeed in canning.
Early in May it was learned that the men in Rose Hill community were greatly in need of clothing to cover their bodies sufficient to go to their work. Over 100 school children in this community had been given clothing. Rev. P.D. Paige, a volunteer leader, walked 12 miles a day for four days until he could get in touch with the Red Cross, and secured for them 42 pairs of overalls for as many men.
The Missionary Society of Cherry Grove Baptist Church under the volunteered leadership of Mrs. Louisa Daniels of Whiteville, rendered efficient services to needy families in that community not reached by welfare workers in providing food, clothing, and fuel. Her work dates back in December and will appear in the yearly report.
Mrs. Ida Stephen worked hard to interest her community on Route No. 1 in their garden project. Twenty in this community raised vegetables for their immediate needs and canned enough fruits and vegetables for their winter needs.
Other leaders worked as hard to help suffering humanity to put over all projects.
Williams reported working with 364 relief families between May and September. She enabled them to put up 16,490 cans or jars of produce. And she traveled 5,224 miles working with these families May through September.