The Great Depression
In 1929, the Great Depression severely disrupted many American’s way of life. Many people lost their jobs, and American industry faltered. This sunk lots of people across the country into deep and inescapable poverty. In North Carolina, the Great Depression hit hard and farmers were especially vulnerable. The demand for the crops that they grew—such as cotton and tobacco—plummeted. As a result, the little money farm families were sometimes able to scrape together vanished. How could North Carolinians stay healthy under the circumstances?
During the 1930s, the Home Demonstration division of the Extension Service adapted the nutrition advice they provided to the radically altered economic climate. For the most part, nutrition advice focused on self-reliance through gardening. As part of the effort to improve North Carolinians’ situation in the midst of the Great Depression, nutritionists teamed up with North Carolina Governor O. Max Gardner to promote the Live-At-Home program, encouraging farm families to garden for sustenance rather than profit. Home demonstration agents promoted garden plans that incorporated nutritional advice. It was important, for instance, that the garden include a variety of crops, thus offering the full range of vitamins necessary to human health.
Home demonstration agents taught farm women how to do more with less by assembling proper meals with foods from the garden. This required significant preparation and effort. Foods had to be grown and preserved and meals had to be carefully planned in order to ensure maximum health for minimal cost. To help with this, the Extension Service’s food and nutrition specialist put together a Garden Calendar and Canning Budget in order to teach families on relief how to plan and grow gardens and to provide instructions on how to conserve surplus for winter. According to the 1933 Home Demonstration annual report, North Carolinians eagerly accepted this kind of guidance: “There has been a great demand for information regarding food values, meal planning and new recipes in which the home grown food supply could be used.”
In times of economic uncertainty, the Extension Service called on their established network of demonstration agents and farm families to help those most in need. But the Great Depression also broadened the reach of the Extension Service. In 1933, the number of counties actively participating in home demonstration work jumped from 56 to 95, leaving out just five North Carolina counties. Knowing that fighting hunger was more than just filling bellies, the Extension Service incorporated nutritional messages into their relief work, promoting the importance of a varied and balanced diet and tying these needs to gardening, food preservation, and meal planning.