Margaret Brown, 13, of Mecklenburg County, one of the first members of Tomato Canning Clubs in North Carolina, wrote the following description of her and her sister’s efforts in 1911.
The purpose of the girls’ Canning Club is to give the farm girls an opportunity to make some money to use as they need it, and make it so they do not have to ask their parents for money every time they want it.
They learn how to use a canner, how to make different kinds of things out of tomatoes, and how to prepare different kinds of fruits and vegetables.
I enrolled as a member just because I thought it would do me good in some way.
Mother told me something that I never had heard about tomatoes when I asked her what the question, “Life history of tomatoes” meant. Mother said, “I can remember that when I was a child the tomatoes were raised mostly as a curiosity. People were almost afraid to eat them.”
Tomatoes are one of the principle vegetables that a farmer raises for market or home use.
My plot is sandy loam sub-soil.
A garden seed bed made during the winter here in Mecklenburg County should be made on the South side of a hill, or in a warm place where the sun can strike it easily. It should be dug up well first. Then manure mixed with this dirt so as to make a good warm place to plant the seed. We put glass over our bed to keep the cold from chilling the plants. This should be done about the middle of February.
My sister, Maybelle, and I put our tenth acres together making one fifth acre and did all our work together. We divided the profits equally.
We used nitrate of soda under our tomato plants. We used this kind of fertilizer to keep moisture in the ground, and help to make the plants grow.
We pulled the largest plants first. This gives the smaller ones a chance to grow. We carried our plants to the garden in a guano sack folded. We could pour water on the sack and put the upper fold over them, this was to prevent them wilting. We dug small holes and put out the plants. After putting in the plants, we poured water on the roots of the plants and set them out.
I cultivated my tomatoes with a hoe, and my father plowed them with a cultivator and plow.
I did not stake or prune my tomato plants.
I had a little patch of blight in my lot. I pulled up the vines and burnt them. Father put lime on our plot so as to prevent diseases.
I did not have any trouble with insects.
I managed my fresh vegetables well. They ripened fast and nicely. We picked our tomatoes when we had time, and when they we were ready to pick. We used large soap boxes for sacking our tomatoes when sending them to Charlotte to our regular market.
We planted the Earliana and had tomatoes on the Charlotte market by the middle of June.
When we took our box full to the merchant the first time he pulled the tomatoes about and looked all the way to the bottom but when he saw that they were graded and were the same size from top to bottom he said, “I can trust you little girls to be honest with me and I am glad to do business with you.”
We used an El Flow No. 30 canner; No. 3 cans having lids with solder on them. We used a good capping steel and tipping copper. The cans are very easy to solder up when the irons are hot.
The tomato cans are easy to label.
Working with the tomato patch teaches both of us to work problems, as we have a great many problems to solve in this work. It is a daily task to get all our accounts straight, especially during marketing time.
Tomatoes can be used in many different ways. You can make tomato pies, pickles with green tomatoes and ripe ones too. You can make preserves, chili sauce, catsup, sour pickles, or you can put them up as they are, or with corn or okra.
We yielded our crops of tomatoes as follows: 21 quarts of catsup, 18 quarts of pickles, 306 cans of tomatoes. And we sold fresh $183.29 worth of tomatoes.
Fresh fruit sold $183.29
21 quarts catsup $10.50
18 quarts of pickles $9.00
Home use $8.12
306 cans $30.60
This work has gotten us interested in nature and in the raising of tomatoes especially. It taught us a great deal about plant life. It taught us to do our work carefully, and as well as possible. It helped teach us habits of thrift and industry. It gave us good outdoor exercise. We made $241.51 with our expense. Our expenses were $29.74, so we cleared $211.77 over all expense.
Our Lettuce Crop
We made our seed bed and planted our lettuce seed September 1 and 2. It was very hot. It was pretty hard work, but we made it anyway. It was 100 feet long and 8 feet wide.
After our tomatoes were done, father plowed up our tomato vines, then he took a harrow and harrowed it until it was well pulverized, then he bedded it up in rows, about August 29.
Our seeds began to come up about September 20. They grew fast and were so thick the bed that we had to set out some of them when they were very young. We set out our first plants about the second week of October. Then we set them out every Saturday until November 7, because we went to school duing the school days. We set out just one-tenth acre. That is one-half of our plot.
Our plants grew fine and were looking strong when a wave of cold weather came and our plants that were headed up almost froze because we did not have the right kind of covering for them.
We cut and sold at first $4.60 worth of that which wasn’t frozen too bad. Then after it thawed out we cut as follows:
32 doz. $12.80
23 doz $5.65
After it had frozen some: $18.45
Before it froze: $4.60
Total made with our expenses: $23.05
Our expenses were: $3.20
Cleared on our lettuce: $19.85
It is not hard to raise lettuce in the early spring, but it is hard to raise lettuce in the winter, if you do not have the right kind of covering for it. Lettuce raised here in the winter should be in a hot bed but we just put ours right in the open to experiment, as we had never tried it in the winter before.
Information on the Brown girls from a May 1, 1934, letter from Jane S. McKimmon, State Agent, to Reuben Brigham, U.S. Department of Agriculture. Family and Consumer Sciences (Department of) Records, Special Collections Research Center, North Carolina State Libraries, Raleigh, N.C.
Margaret and Maybelle Brown of Mecklenburg County were among the first girls to join a Tomato Canning Club in 1911 and they remained in the Huntersville Club until they went to college. Margaret was 13 and Maybell 11 when they joined and their efforts were so successful that they won a trip to Washington, D.C., as a prize.
Margaret was 13 and Maybelle 11 when they became canning club girls, and they were so successful that they both won a trip to Washington, where they met corn club boys and tomato club girls from other states. At that meeting, Margaret met Walter Dunston from Alexander City, Alabama, who had raised 232 bushels of corn on his acre. Margaret and Walter would marry when Margaret was 18.
“Margaret worked hard on her club projects and determined to make her way through college,” said Jane S. McKimmon, state home demonstration leader, N.C. State College. “For two successive summers she came to the State 4-H Short Course held at Peace Institute, a girls’ junior college in Raleigh, and determined she would devise some plan of working her way through college. The institution agreed to take seven or eight hundred of her cans of vegetables each year on her tuition, and because of her efficiency and dependability gave her the job of counting the laundry in and out. She majored in home economics and did good work but her marriage interfered with the completion of a four-year college course.”
Maybelle earned an A.B. degree with honors at Queen’s College, Charlotte, and a master’s degree at North Carolina College for Women.