The History of Tomato Clubs

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Eleanor Rose

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tomato-club.jpg

PHOTOGRAPH BY STATE ARCHIVES OF NORTH CAROLINA
I recently came across a relic that’s been preserved at the North Carolina State Archives - memoirs left by the NC Tomato Club girls, pioneers of small-patch gardening.

As it turns out Tomato Clubs came to North Carolina under the leadership of Jane McKimmon Simpson, a Raleigh native and pioneer of home economics. Born in 1867, she became an author, agricultural educator, civic leader and a director of several women's institutes. Jane provided home demonstration programs and enabled rural women in North Carolina the opportunity to play a much larger role in their family’s life during a time when the majority of folks lived on farms and few had electricity or indoor plumbing.

JaneMcKimmon.jpg

Jane McKimmon Simpson

In those days, North Carolina farmers lived a hardscrabble life earning very little money. While they weren’t typically interested in hearing about the newest agricultural techniques their young sons were. This led these young men to form Corn Clubs and to team up to grow side crops on an acre of land apiece. They quickly became a success and often produced yields that greatly outpaced their fathers’.

Armed with this knowledge, Jane McKimmon Simpson began urging girls to form their own clubs, but to produce tomatoes instead of corn because this was a less strenuous crop. North Carolina girls across 14 counties liked the idea and began planting tomatoes in patches covering one-tenth of an acre. They grew tomatoes to eating size and then packed them in tin cans. Lizzie Norris of Holly Springs, NC recorded harvesting 2,000 pounds of tomatoes and selling 800 cans. She proudly yielded a profit of $78. In her memoir Lizzie wrote:

The motto which [the cans] bear is one that every true club member tries to live up to, ‘To make the best better’.”

These memoirs preserved in the NC State Archives, many of them more than 10 pages long, make it clear that these young female gardeners had never ventured far from their family farms. It is obvious they enjoyed the much needed social interaction their Tomato Clubs offered. Sadie Linner, a Warren County farm girl who wrote an 11-page report on her tomato garden said:

“I met some very nice girls there. It will be a pleasure to keep up the acquaintance with them.”

farmers_daughter_hed.jpg

UNC Education Archives

These early NC Tomato Clubs slowly evolved into more formal farm education. However, in their brief history they served a powerful purpose. You can see this in the club portraits where the girls are proudly waving their tomato pennants and showing off the grit and know-how they gained with their fingers in the dirt.

tomato+club+belwood,+cleveland.jpg

Rural North Carolina History

I applaud Jane McKimmon Simpson and all the girls in the NC Tomato Clubs. They were truly groundbreakers!



 

LoriAnn

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Makes me think of my grandmothers and their victory gardens during WW2. :smile:

Lizzie Norris of Holly Springs, NC recorded harvesting 2,000 pounds of tomatoes and selling 800 cans. She proudly yielded a profit of $78.
I can imagine how proud she was! That's pretty cool. I know I'm quite pleased with myself when I head out to our garden for a few tomatoes and some basil, but I only have a couple of plants. Pretty weenie compared to these girls and their operation.
 

AshleyMel

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How neat! I'm trying to search my brain for memories of any type of similar club from back home.
I do know that my grandma's used to have kind of a little rivalry with there gardens every year. It was definitely tomato centered! Each one wanted bragging rights as to whose tomatoes were the best! Nanny's garden was quite large, opting for quantity, while Grandma Ruth's was smaller as she wanted more control and quality. Us kids just enjoyed reaping the rewards of growing up on fresh veggies and lots of time spent in the garden with our Grands!
 
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tomato-club.jpg

PHOTOGRAPH BY STATE ARCHIVES OF NORTH CAROLINA
I recently came across a relic that’s been preserved at the North Carolina State Archives - memoirs left by the NC Tomato Club girls, pioneers of small-patch gardening.

As it turns out Tomato Clubs came to North Carolina under the leadership of Jane McKimmon Simpson, a Raleigh native and pioneer of home economics. Born in 1867, she became an author, agricultural educator, civic leader and a director of several women's institutes. Jane provided home demonstration programs and enabled rural women in North Carolina the opportunity to play a much larger role in their family’s life during a time when the majority of folks lived on farms and few had electricity or indoor plumbing.

JaneMcKimmon.jpg

Jane McKimmon Simpson

In those days, North Carolina farmers lived a hardscrabble life earning very little money. While they weren’t typically interested in hearing about the newest agricultural techniques their young sons were. This led these young men to form Corn Clubs and to team up to grow side crops on an acre of land apiece. They quickly became a success and often produced yields that greatly outpaced their fathers’.

Armed with this knowledge, Jane McKimmon Simpson began urging girls to form their own clubs, but to produce tomatoes instead of corn because this was a less strenuous crop. North Carolina girls across 14 counties liked the idea and began planting tomatoes in patches covering one-tenth of an acre. They grew tomatoes to eating size and then packed them in tin cans. Lizzie Norris of Holly Springs, NC recorded harvesting 2,000 pounds of tomatoes and selling 800 cans. She proudly yielded a profit of $78. In her memoir Lizzie wrote:

The motto which [the cans] bear is one that every true club member tries to live up to, ‘To make the best better’.”

These memoirs preserved in the NC State Archives, many of them more than 10 pages long, make it clear that these young female gardeners had never ventured far from their family farms. It is obvious they enjoyed the much needed social interaction their Tomato Clubs offered. Sadie Linner, a Warren County farm girl who wrote an 11-page report on her tomato garden said:

“I met some very nice girls there. It will be a pleasure to keep up the acquaintance with them.”

farmers_daughter_hed.jpg

UNC Education Archives

These early NC Tomato Clubs slowly evolved into more formal farm education. However, in their brief history they served a powerful purpose. You can see this in the club portraits where the girls are proudly waving their tomato pennants and showing off the grit and know-how they gained with their fingers in the dirt.

tomato+club+belwood,+cleveland.jpg

Rural North Carolina History

I applaud Jane McKimmon Simpson and all the girls in the NC Tomato Clubs. They were truly groundbreakers!



You'll never guess what I thought when I first saw the title of this thread. :help::smile coffee:
 
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AshleyMel

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My first thought was Victory Gardens. But then my second thought was awesome spaghetti sauce. Which is silly because I used jarred stuff. :rolleyes: *gasp!*
My Nanny always made homemade! Until she discovered Prego! She absolutely loved it! Us kiddos didn't care, of course but it was interesting seeing the transformation - from everything coming from the garden to a diet of more processed foods. Now a days I see Mom's trying to do the reverse!
 
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