By: Virginia Ferris
Special Collections staff arranged a special Show and Tell event in honor of Chef Vivian Howard at the Friends of the Library Spring Meeting on April 7, 2015, bringing together a selection of rare and unique items highlighting the story of North Carolina food, agriculture, and rural empowerment. Chef Howard, of Kinston NC, is an NC State alum (’00) and the James Beard-nominated star of A Chef’s Life on PBS. Chef Howard and her staff from Chef and the Farmer served a meal of small plates during a conversation about Howard’s career, North Carolina agriculture, and Southern foodways, moderated by Dr. Nancy G. Creamer, NC State Professor and Director of the Center for Environmental Farming Systems.
Over 60 visitors stopped by the Show and Tell event to learn more about the canning labels, recipes, photographs, and farming publications on display. The event showcased the richness of collections like the Cooperative Extension Service Publications, 4-H Youth Development Records, and the North Carolina Farm Bureau Records, that documentthe ways that cooperative extension and home demonstration impacted the way North Carolinians live and eat.
Food was key to home and farm demonstration programs, which largely focused on improving southern crop yields by promoting the latest scientific farming methods. Around 1912, agriculturalist Seaman Knapp developed this hands-on instructional methodology that focused on involving the entire family – not just the farmer – and encouraged the development of rural clubs for homemakers and their children. Male extension agents from NC State worked with boys’ clubs and farmers, promoting scientific agriculture and business practices that emphasized crop diversification and increased yield. Female agents, led by founding head of NC home demonstration Jane McKimmon, led girls in Tomato Clubs that instructed them in gardening, canning, and selling food that they produced themselves. Canning allowed women to preserve vegetables, fruits, meat, and juice, providing variety and greater nutritional value in their family’s diet year round, and cooking demonstrations helped women learn to prepare meals from canned goods. Curb markets through home demonstration programs and 4-H clubs also equipped rural women and youth with marketing skills and additional income for their families.
The “Live-at-Home” campaign, launched by NC State Director of Agricultural Extension I.O. Schaub and actively promoted by Governor O. Max Gardner in 1929, encouraged farm families to grow and conserve their own food, rather than planting nonfood cash crops like cotton or tobacco, and encouraged North Carolina “city folk” to buy their supplies from local farmers as much as possible. A menu from a dinner hosted by Governor Gardner in 1929, featured in the Show and Tell event, recognizes the North Carolina farmers that provided food for this feast. In her 1945 book When We’re Green We Grow, Jane McKimmon wrote of the meal, “Pecans, sorghum and peanut candy with other sweets came from the east, apples and kraut juice from the foothills of the mountains; and sweet milk from the Guernsey breeders’ association, together with the buttermilk from the creameries, almost put coffee, good as it was, out of the running.”
This “Live-at-Home” dinner parallels the work of today’s leaders like Vivian Howard and her husband Ben Knight to promote sustainable local farming and to reconnect North Carolinians to their roots through food. Gardner’s dinner mirrors the meal of locally sourced dishes – including oysters, chicken and rice, cornbread with local cheeses and homemade jams, and a Pepsi float with peanuts – that Howard served the audience. The communities and stories behind these foods are closely tied to NC State’s extension and home demonstration legacy that is documented and preserved in the Special Collections Research Center. Projects such as Green N’ Growing and Cultivating a Revolution further highlight this history, and our digital collections hold a wealth of resources about agriculture and food in North Carolina that are available online.
Thank you to everyone who attended the event, and the Special Collections staff look forward to putting together more events like this in the future. To view these collections in person, check out our online collection guides and schedule an appointment at the SCRC by sending an email to: firstname.lastname@example.org.