Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Lovelaces are P. to P. Winners in Tennessee

Click to enlarge
It’s planting time here in Midtown Memphis. My farm is about 9’ x 3' and last weekend Alex, Olivia and I got the zinnias and the sunflowers planted. Anytime I work in the dirt, I start thinking about my grandparents, Guy and Virginia Lovelace. Back in the early 1940s, they actually won awards for their hard work on their farm as part of the Commercial Appeal’s Plant to Prosper program.

Click to enlarge
In 1944, they won in the tenant division for Haywood County, TN as “the farm family making the best record in following a live-at-home program, diversified farming, soil conservation and farm and home improvement.”

It’s no secret cotton was king in the South as people moved into towns like those in Haywood County and began planting it as their only crop. But after the Civil War, farmers who had a lot of land and didn’t have a big family to work it usually engaged entire families of “tenant” farmers to live on and work their land.

As the agricultural economy plummeted in the early 1930s during the depression, tenant farmers were among those who suffered most.

The Agricultural Adjustment Act, which launched May 12, 1933 restricted agricultural production in the New Deal era by paying landowners not to plant part of their land and to kill off excess livestock. The purpose was to reduce crop surplus and raise the prices of crops that were harvested.

The landowners received compensation for what they would have normally gotten and they were legally required to pay the tenant farmers a portion of the money. Much of the time, however, the farmers kept the money and did not pass it down to the poor families who worked their land.

Click to enlarge
Description of The Plant to Prosper program
taken from 1944 brochure.
The "Plant to Prosper" program was created by “The Commercial Appeal” to help small farmers improve their economic status and reward them for using the excess land in a positive way.

There were several years my grandparents won awards from the Plant to Prosper program.

Click to enlarge

In 1946 they were the Tennessee tenant winners and were photographed for a newspaper article in their home.

Click to enlarge
As part of their prize, they were invited to attend a luncheon at the Claridge and a dinner at The Peabody Hotel in Memphis. My mother, the little girl in the photo, remembers it was the first place she saw a cherry in the middle of a grapefruit.

When I was a kid living in the newly developed Parkway Village neighborhood of Memphis in the '60s, my grandfather would come and pick me up and take me downtown to feed the squirrels in the Court Square Park on Main Street or check out the lobby of the Peabody. So I know he didn’t need much to talk him into attending the award ceremony in Memphis back in 1944. If he had needed any persuading, Mr. Walter Durham, the director of the Plant to Prosper Bureau, was just the man to do it.

Click to enlarge
“As a County Winner in the Plant to Prosper Contest, you are somebody in your community. The very fact that you won proves that you are a leader --- that you want to “go places” as a farmer…”
 I am pretty sure my grandfather enjoyed reading that.

Click to enlarge
According to this article, my grandparents had recently purchased their farm from my grandfather’s brother, Homer Lovelace and it was 51.4 acres.

Click to enlarge
“He diversified his crops so well that he had 14 different cash income sources. The family of four spent $150 for food while producing over $650 worth of food consumed on the farm. The Lovelace brothers are members of the Farm Bureau and their wives are Home demonstration Club members.” Update: My mom tells me this particular article was about something other than the Plan to Prosper prize but she isn't certain what.
Click to enlarge
You can actually spot my grandparents and my mother in this photo from the front page of The Commercial Appeal from Wednesday, December 20, 1944. It’s interesting to me that these are farmers from all over the region yet they are dressed like executives at an insurance conference. Not a pair of Wranglers or a John Deere cap in site.

Click to enlarge
They were on a winning streak and also in 1944 won two stars from the Farm Security Administration for 135 eggs per hen in a 12-month period.

To this day, when I crack open a cantaloupe or a watermelon and get a whiff of it’s smell or taste a fresh tomato, I think about my grandparents house and farm and all the great things they created there.

Eventually, they raised five children on their farm and in later years, my grandfather also became a carpenter and my grandmother tried her hand at being a beautician and finally, for many years, a teacher's aide in Brownsville, TN. But they always had freshly-grown vegetables and even sold or gave away the surplus.

Hopefully, a little of that has rubbed off on me and we'll have a bumper crop of zinnias this year.

For more about Guy and Virginia Lovelace, visit the Lovelace Family page on

1 comment:

  1. Interesting stuff. Didn't realize there were programs like Plant to Prosper. I was looking for tenant farmer information regarding my book: Ruby's Son: A journey from poverty to peace (
    Thanks for the posts!