“Live at Home” Program

Written By Shane Williams

Governor O. Max Gardner implemented the Live at Home Program in 1929. The initiative encouraged farmers to increase food and livestock production in order to improve farm conditions and provide for year round family farm consumption.

During World War I, cotton and tobacco prices decreased as well as overall demand. Meanwhile, overproduction meant less profit for farmers who accumulated more debt as fertilizer costs outweighed annual income.  With all production devoted to tobacco and cotton and no money to purchase food, malnourishment and disease abounded among Tar Heels.

Governor O. Max Gardner encouraged farmers to produce more of their own food so that they could be more self-sustaining and independent. This approach would also limit crop production and thereby raise cotton and tobacco prices.  It was a win-win situation, in the governor’s mind.  Any overproduction in food could be sold at local markets. Gardner called this initiative the “Live at Home Program,” and it was implemented in December 1929.

A promotional effort soon followed.  North Carolina State University, the Department of Agriculture, and the Agricultural Extension Service endorsed the program.  n December 1929, Gardner hosted a Live at Home dinner with 200 newspaper editors from across the state. Shortly afterward, weekly and daily papers endorsed the program, and agricultural and women’s extension agencies advanced Live at Home. 

Public schools implemented the program into their curriculum. Students were presented with lessons detailing the benefits of producing food, raising livestock planting crops, conserving food and selling food in large quantities. From February 10-14, 1930 Live at Home Week occurred, and children planted vegetables, wrote letters to the governor, and encouraged parental participation in the program.

Many organizations and non-profits hosted Live at Home events.  Onslow County women’s groups hosted lectures and banquets with freshly grown fruits and vegetables and Johnston County businesses held large events with guest speakers, to name two examples. 

The program had its critics, but many across the state deemed it a good idea. Charles Sheffield evaluated the program over three years and considered Live at Home a success; farmers who limited crop production benefited by spending less on groceries.  Moreover, Sheffield concluded, many North Carolinians learned the benefits of self-sufficient farming.   Nevertheless the program was short lived and ended after Gardner’s term ended in 1933.

Overall, the program did little to reduce tobacco and cotton cropland in North Carolina. Many of the same agriculture problems reoccurred under President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s administration during the 1930s and 1940s.