During the Great Depression, Extension hired Emergency Home Demonstration Agents 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 with the goal of putting up enough fruit and vegetables to supply their needs all winter long.
Below, Margaret E.H. Clifton reports to the state Extension office on her work in 1933 as an emergency agent in Franklin County.
In looking about to find leaders and helpers in our work to organize for the caning program to be put in our county for relief, we naturally turned to our Home Demonstration Clubs in the county. The clubs are composed of a group of women who have, for years, been trained by efficient Home Demonstration Agents sent out by the state in cooperation with the counties. Our work was cut out in the county when we needed it terribly, and, when I was appointed as the Emergency Home Demonstration Agent, my thoughts naturally turned to the clubs and their personnel. From each club, two women were selected. These were called together for a get-together meeting, at which time, our plan of canning and distribution was explained.
On the twentieth of June, Mrs. Morris and Miss Hendly from the State Department came down and held a canning demonstration for leaders and others who might be interested. About 125 attended this meeting. In the afternoon of the same day, we had a meeting for the colored workers.
The leaders which were chosen have gone out into the county and helped wonderfully in putting over the program, and others have volunteered their services and have also done splendid work.
The relief people have been most appreciative of all help rendered them, and, I think, the lessons taught them in canning will be of untold value.
Of course, there is a great deal of prejudice among some people, and one prejudice we had to combat was the fact that the majority were afraid to can in tin for fear they would be poisoned. Just prior to our canning project, two teachers in one of the communities ate some canned food and it made them both very ill. One can easily see how the above would affect the canners. I explained to these people that it was not nearly as dangerous to can in tin as it was to put canning powders in products canned in glass, the latter being a violation of the United States pure food law.
I am sorry to report that the early relief gardens were almost complete failures, due to the exceedingly dry weather. The later gardens, however, came in and enabled us to can many more vegetables than we had anticipated. Four of five relief families, that I have in mind, had all the vegetables they could consume, canned two or three hundred quarts and then sold corn, tomatoes, butter beans, snaps and now have a good winter garden. A few winter gardens have been reported, collards are small and numbers of families are without the usual salad patches.
I would suggest that a plenty of seed be given all relief families for the next year gardens.
Some of the homes that were visited are scrupulously clean and neat, but the majority did not contain either a good cook stove or large vessels with which to can. The majority are in terrible condition. Also, most the houses are run-down and wide open.
The drinking water situation is not given near enough of the consideration which is its just due.
The pellagra situation is appalling in some sections of the county. Some cases are receiving physician’s care, but a good deal are not. Two hundred pamphlets on the pellagra subject and 100 pamphlets on infant care were distributed throughout the county. The women were very anxious to receive the latter.
Our canning program was not of as great magnitude as it was in some counties, but the good that was done in filling cans for families to use through the winter months will be of untold value. We had no community garden, therefore no community canneries. We had no donated equipment from the county, and had to use individual sealers, two of which I bought in order to make my work more effective. They were needed terribly as we were held up constantly due to our inability to get the few sealers we had around to the different communities.
Relief families filled about 2,000 of our glass cans and returned half to be placed on our shelves for relief or lunches for the under-nourished school children this winter. The other thousand we have outright to families who had no jars.
Of the 17,400 tin cans we exacted one-fourth toll, and, with the vegetables donated, we have nearly 5,000 filled tin cans for use in school lunches this winter. These tin cans, added to the $75,000 glass cans fund in relief homes throughout the county, will bring the grand total to around $100,000.
We used any equipment we could find, from lard tins, wash pots to hog-scalding vats. The latter make the work much easier as we are able to process a larger number of cans at one time.
Next year, if the weather is more favorable and the gardens more bountiful, the equipment will not begin to be adequate because, if we could have started earlier, we could have doubled the amount of canned goods.
During the time that I was not engaged in canning, I attended and held the meetings of the Home Demonstration Clubs. The women were interested to the fullest in the canning program, and they have, individually, put on a big canning program, which will be reported later. The club women ordered over 6,000 tin cans for home use. The clubs have been well attended, and a good number have added members, six being added to one club.
Thanks to our county commissioners, Home Demonstration work was reinstated in our county, and the agent, Miss Priest, began work on October 1, 1933.
I feel that a great favor was bestowed upon me by allowing me to serve as Emergency Home Demonstration Agent during the past summer. My work as been a pleasure, and my contact with the women of the county, both club women and relief families, has been a wonderful experience.