Tomato Club to celebrate 100-year anniversary

Milam County to recognize Edna Westbrook Trigg, century of service by AgriLife Extension

Girls from Milam County 4-H clubs dress as Girls’ Tomato Club members from 1912. The outfits were patterned after those seen in early Tomato Cub photos. (Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service photo)

CAMERON – A centennial celebration of the first Girls’ Tomato Club established by Edna Westbrook Trigg, the state’s first home demonstration agent, will be Oct. 9 on the first floor of the Milam County Courthouse, 102 South Fannin St. in Cameron.

The program will begin at 10:40 a.m., with a recognition proclamation to be presented during the day’s Commissioners’ Court meeting. A welcome, 4-H pledge and motto, and introduction of Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service family and consumer sciences agents who have served Milam County will follow. The program will conclude after comments by honored guests, including AgriLife Extension and state 4-H officials and Dr. W. Cone Johnson, Trigg’s grandson.

A Tomato Club exhibit and refreshments will be available at the Milam County Museum after the program’s conclusion around noon. The museum is across the street from the courthouse at 112 W. 1st Street.

“Recipe booklets also will be available at the museum for a minimal donation,” said Cheryl Walker, AgriLife Extension family and consumer sciences agent, Milam County. “This booklet has more than 180 recipes using tomatoes as a main ingredient, and those recipes have been collected from many people.”

Walker said the primary responsibility of Trigg, who began her career in 1912 as a home demonstration agent for Milam County, was to coordinate, organize and supervise Girls’ Tomato Clubs throughout the county, plus give practical demonstrations on the production and canning of tomatoes.

Trigg passed away in 1946 after a long and successful career with what is now the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service.  In October 1970, ceremonies were held at the Milam County Courthouse to dedicate a historical marker commemorating her as the first home demonstration agent. In December 1991, she was inducted into America’s Agricultural Hall of Fame.

Milam County Judge Dave Barkemeyer said he was proud the county would be “a part of this historical moment in Texas 4-H” and that he was glad Milam County was hosting the state celebration of this centennial milestone.

“Texas A&M AgriLife Extension programming in 4-H, family and consumer sciences and agriculture and natural resources is just as important now in 2012 as it was 100 years ago,” Barkemeyer said.

According to Texas State Historical Association documents, initial Tomato Club efforts were so successful that in the summer of 1912 the Milam County Girls’ Tomato Clubs coordinated with area Boys’ Corn Clubs – both precursors to present-day 4-H clubs. The groups presented the first-ever show in Texas to exhibit girls’ agricultural products, which included tin cans and glass jars of tomatoes and peaches. The show drew more than 3,000 people in Milano, and the following year the girls exhibited their agricultural products at the state fair in Dallas, as well as at the Waco Cotton Palace.

Milam County 4-H club members helped create the Tomato Club display to be exhibited at the Milam County Museum as part of the 100th anniversary celebration. (Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service photo)

“The Tomato Clubs, as well as the many home demonstration clubs and similar groups that later evolved throughout the state, helped primarily rural Texans by providing information and advice on vegetable gardening, canning, sewing, cooking, household management, family health, poultry-raising and other aspects of daily life,” Walker said.

Along with their educational mission, these clubs also provided a social outlet for women in rural areas, Walker said. Early home demonstration agents were often viewed as community role models due to their knowledge and self-sufficiency.

According to state historical association documentation, Trigg and her successors played a key role in helping make Milam County agriculturally self-sufficient by working with area farmers. Trigg was also identified as a proponent of education, frequently encouraging Tomato Club members to start college savings funds and look for scholarship opportunities at colleges and universities.

In his foreword to the Tomato Recipe Booklet, Johnson wrote about Trigg: “Occasionally, she allowed me to go along in her Chevy coupe as she visited country families throughout Denton County. In these travels, Nana taught me, by example , basic rules of kindness, common decency, manners, and respect for all other human beings, no matter their circumstance. She no doubt ingrained these same lessons in all those with whom she came in contact, including her students in the Tomato Clubs, and it is hoped they passed her lessons on to their children.”

He added that his grandmother would be “amazed at the breadth of outreach the Milam County Agrilife Extension Service successfully manages today.”

“The mission, however, remains the same,” he wrote. “…service to the community, helping residents make their lives better, healthier, and more productive.”

“Today, AgriLife Extension family and consumer sciences agents do some of the same things Edna Trigg did in her day, including working with youth, and giving food preservation programs and nutrition education,” Walker said. “But now we also provide information and instruction on child vehicle passenger safety instruction, parenting, financial literacy and a variety of other family-centered topics.”

Edna Westbrook Trigg, shown here late in her career with the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service, started the state’s first Girls’ Tomato Clubs which, along with  Boys’ Corn Clubs, were forerunners to today’s Texas 4-H clubs. (Photo courtesy of TAMU Cushing Memorial Library and Archives)

Walker said although AgriLife Extension has changed and expanded over the years, the profession will always owe a great debt to Trigg and the work she started with the first Girls’ Tomato Clubs in Milam County.

“She set the bar pretty high for other home demonstration agents and those of us in the profession who came after them,” Walker said. “By my count, I am the fortieth person to serve Milam County as an AgriLife Extension county agent or program assistant in family and consumer sciences.”

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