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The Four Industries that Built American Agriculture

Since the early days of colonial farming, the United States has become the world’s largest agricultural exporter, shipping over $100 billion USD worth of products annually. In honor of National Food Month, we’re taking a look at some of the food industries that have been integral in creating America’s agricultural identity.
 


Dairy

Reprinted from Ewald Bros. Dairy by William D. Ewald courtesy of Norton & Peel (pg. 31, Arcadia Publishing, 2017).

Reprinted from Ewald Bros. Dairy by William D. Ewald courtesy of Norton & Peel (pg. 31, Arcadia Publishing, 2017).


A staple product of the Midwest and Northeast, the US is the world’s biggest milk-producing country. Dairy’s foundations in America began with the influx of immigrants from countries like Germany and Poland in the early 1600s. These populations, who had previously used dairy products to make potato salads and other cream-based dishes, brought their love of dairy with them to states like New York, Pennsylvania, Iowa, and Ohio. It was not uncommon for many families to own a cow, whose milk was used for cream, and to create sour cream, which served as the base to several other recipes. In Polish homes, sour cream was used to create the dough for pierogis, while German recipes called for sour cream to create condiments like ranch dressing.


Dairy soon became big business for the Northeast and Midwest, and ranks amongst the largest agricultural products for several states today – in New York, dairy products are the number one food export for the state, and is also the country’s leader in yogurt production, a distinction which has led to yogurt being named the state’s official snack. In areas like Iowa, milk is still often sourced from local family farms for production. Indeed, Des Moines historically has one of the highest amounts per capita for consumption of milk in the country.


In addition to the economic benefits that dairy farming has produced for many states, the regions built around dairy farming also benefit from the industry’s presence. Many dairy farms contribute to their surrounding communities by sponsoring community events or youth sports. In doing so, the industry has provided not only monetary support to the regions it thrives in, but has also helped to build the culture and community of these areas.


Corn

Reprinted from An Ozark Culinary History by Erin Rowe courtesy of the Rogers Historical Museum (pg. 25, The History Press, 2017).
Reprinted from An Ozark Culinary History by Erin Rowe courtesy of the Rogers Historical Museum (pg. 25, The History Press, 2017).


The biggest feed grain for livestock within the US, corn accounts for 95% of the total US feed grain production and use. This comes from the fact that corn grows easily nationwide, and is a versatile crop serving a range of purposes. Corn production ranges from the Ozark region in northern Arkansas and southern Missouri, to Iowa in the Midwest, and the Heartland states. The history of corn in North America is much longer than just its production in the US, however – an indigenous crop, corn was a staple of many Native American communities centuries before the first explorers set foot on North American soil.

Because corn was such a well-established and adaptable, it quickly became useful to colonizers as they adjusted to their new terrain. In the Ozarks for instance, there are at least seven types of corn, all of which can be used to make several different types of products: Field corn can be ground to make dishes like grits, while flour corn will help to make cornmeal. Sweet corn can be eaten directly off the cob, or in many cases is still used to make corn-based moonshine.

Corn’s versatility has contributed to its historical success – in Arkansas, corn was the number one feed crop throughout the 1900s, and today Iowa produces more corn than any other state in the nation. The majority of the corn produced in the US today is used to feed the animals of farms nationwide, fueling several other American farming industries.


Poultry, Cattle, and Pork

Reprinted from An Ozark Culinary History by Erin Rowe courtesy of the Rogers Historical Museum (pg. 83, The History Press, 2017). While farming is often thought of in terms of plant crops, the US is also a leader in poultry and meat farming. Meat and poultry have been prominently featured in the American consciousness: from KFC and In ‘n’ Out burgers, to Texas BBQ and the meat-and-potatoes culture of the Heartland and the Midwest. Today, the US is the number one world producer of beef, and is also a world leader in terms of pork and poultry production. The reason for this dates back to the original settlers of North America – hogs were first brought to the area by Christopher Columbus in 1493 at the insistence of Queen Isabella of Spain (as they were not found during Columbus’ first voyage to the New World), while cattle were brought by Irish and Scottish immigrants. Poultry was introduced by settlers of Jamestown, Virginia in the early 17th century. These animals flourished in different areas of the country: Cows were better suited to the plains of the Heartland and Texas, where cattle ranching remains a large part of several states’ economies. While cattle were not well suited to the unforgiving terrain of Appalachia, pigs and chicken thrived in areas like Kentucky, where they were able to forage successfully for food. Pigs and poultry also did well in the Midwest, where several states are now amongst the top ten for pork production nationwide. Meats like poultry and pork fared better in the poorer communities of Appalachia and the Midwest because of their affordability. Only the poorest families could not afford to keep a chicken at home. For those that could, if money became tight later on, a chicken could be butchered to feed the family. In addition, keeping chickens resulted in eggs, which were a significant means of both food and trade. This history of pork and poultry is reflected today: In the Ozarks, chicken is king, as the headquarters of Tyson Foods is located in Arkansas, while Iowa serves as the nation’s top pork producer. Wine
Reprinted from An Ozark Culinary History by Erin Rowe courtesy of the Rogers Historical Museum (pg. 83, The History Press, 2017).

While farming is often thought of in terms of plant crops, the US is also a leader in poultry and meat farming. Meat and poultry have been prominently featured in the American consciousness: from KFC and In ‘n’ Out burgers, to Texas BBQ and the meat-and-potatoes culture of the Heartland and the Midwest. Today, the US is the number one world producer of beef, and is also a world leader in terms of pork and poultry production. The reason for this dates back to the original settlers of North America – hogs were first brought to the area by Christopher Columbus in 1493 at the insistence of Queen Isabella of Spain (as they were not found during Columbus’ first voyage to the New World), while cattle were brought by Irish and Scottish immigrants. Poultry was introduced by settlers of Jamestown, Virginia in the early 17th century.

These animals flourished in different areas of the country: Cows were better suited to the plains of the Heartland and Texas, where cattle ranching remains a large part of several states’ economies. While cattle were not well suited to the unforgiving terrain of Appalachia, pigs and chicken thrived in areas like Kentucky, where they were able to forage successfully for food. Pigs and poultry also did well in the Midwest, where several states are now amongst the top ten for pork production nationwide.

Meats like poultry and pork fared better in the poorer communities of Appalachia and the Midwest because of their affordability. Only the poorest families could not afford to keep a chicken at home. For those that could, if money became tight later on, a chicken could be butchered to feed the family. In addition, keeping chickens resulted in eggs, which were a significant means of both food and trade. This history of pork and poultry is reflected today: In the Ozarks, chicken is king, as the headquarters of Tyson Foods is located in Arkansas, while Iowa serves as the nation’s top pork producer.


Wine

Reprinted from Culinary History of the Finger Lakes by Laura Winter Falk courtesy of Hammondsport Public Library (pg. 51, The History Press, 2014).
Reprinted from Culinary History of the Finger Lakes by Laura Winter Falk courtesy of Hammondsport Public Library (pg. 51, The History Press, 2014).

As one of the world's top five wine producers, the US wine industry can be seen in almost every area of the country, but is traditionally thought of having primary roots in the West Coast and the Northeast. However, the first wines in America were actually produced near what is now Jacksonville, Florida. These early wines were rejected by settlers, as the grapes that produced them were found to be unfamiliar and unpalatable. As a result, many Europeans planted grapes from their home countries, which flourished the most on the West Coast and in the Finger Lakes region of New York in the 19th century. These areas have come to revolve around wine culture as a result, serving as both tourist and agricultural destinations.

Today, wine production is the biggest industry in the Finger Lakes region, whose lakes help to moderate temperatures such that it is ideal for grape production. While the Finger Lakes region and California account for most of the traditional grape-based wines produced in the US, wine is also produced in areas like the Ozarks from less traditional sources, like persimmon. As the US wine industry continues to grow, wine production is also expanding to regions like the Midwest. In Iowa, the State grew from only 13 wineries to 97 wineries and 300 vineyards between 1999 and 2014. The area, while not traditionally known for wine production, has been successful at producing dry wines in the recent decades. This expansion has helped to place wine sales in the US at an all-time high, totaling $34.1 billion USD in 2016.


If you’d like to learn more about the history of food and drink in the US, check out books from our American Palate series to learn about anything from Kansas City Beer to A Culinary History of the Nebraska Sand Hills!


Which food do you think helped to create America? Let us know in the comments below!






 
Posted: 5/7/2018 12:00:00 AM| with 0 comments


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