Past Forward

Activating The Henry Ford Archive of Innovation

Fruits and Vegetables: From Growers to Grocery Store Shelves

November 18, 2021 Archive Insight
Logo with text "International Year of Fruits and Vegetables 2021" and smiley face made up of simple stylized vegetables

The United Nations designated 2021 as the International Year of Fruits and Vegetables. / Logo by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations © FAO

The United Nations (UN) draws attention to selected topics by designating “international years.” These may seem inconsequential until you read more about the goals. The UN’s International Year of Fruits and Vegetables (IYFV), observed during 2021, sought to raise awareness of nutrition, promote healthy diets, reduce food waste, and improve supply chains. The Henry Ford has much to share about all of these topics that can help people live healthier lives.

IYFV Goal One: Raising awareness of and directing policy attention to the nutrition and health benefits of fruits and vegetables consumption.

The first goal, raising awareness of nutrition, aligns squarely with the concept of food security. A person might have enough to eat, but that food may not be nutritious. Inadequate nutrition leads to ill health. During Black History Month this year, The Henry Ford shared an exhibit on food security, which you can also read about in our blog post “Food Soldiers: Nutrition and Race Activism.” Will Allen, urban agriculture advocate, summarized this idea well: “Without a strong food system, a community cannot call itself sustainable.” Melvin Parson, market gardener, social entrepreneur and The Henry Ford’s first William Davidson Foundation Initiative for Entrepreneurship Entrepreneur in Residence, dedicates his energy to growing fresh food and supplying area restaurants to spread the nutritional value of fresh foods. Melvin also emphasizes the personally regenerative power of growing your own food, as formerly incarcerated individuals regain their freedom and chart their futures through farming.

IYFV Goal Two: Promoting diversified, balanced, and healthy diets and lifestyles through fruit and vegetable consumption.

White label with logos and images of pineapple and holly branches
Can Label, "Holly Brand Crushed Pineapples," California Packing Corporation, San Francisco, California, 1920-1940. / THF294147

The Henry Ford’s chefs promote healthy diets, the second goal, as part of their daily routines. They adapted recipes originally published by George Washington Carver and debuted them at Plum Market and Taste of History during 2021. You can read more about the process to perfect these mouth-watering entrees, side dishes, and desserts in our post “Beyond the Peanut: Food Inspired by Carver.” Carver dedicated his career to food advocacy, and his recipes and advice literature explain how people, often marginalized and victimized, can use “Healthy Food to Build Healthy Communities.”

IYFV Goal Three: Reducing losses and waste in fruits and vegetables food systems.

Black-and-white photo of a man wearing overalls standing pouring slops for a group of pigs in a farmyard
Farmer Feeding Pigs and Chickens, circa 1935. / THF621845

The third goal, to reduce food waste, immediately calls to mind the historical role of pigs on farms. Farmers (like the fellow in the photograph above) often fed skim milk or buttermilk, byproducts of dairy processing, to their pigs. The pigs at Firestone Farm in Greenfield Village benefit from this richness. Reducing food waste factors into regenerative agricultural practices because food waste can be composted and returned to the soil, adding nutrients and biomass—both essential for soil health. The Henry Ford’s internal Green Team incorporated composting into the strategic plan it developed during 2021. Firestone Farm presenters also reduce waste by composting garden waste and sheep bedding for use in gardens and farm fields. The Henry Ford’s Innovation Nation crew filmed a story on regenerative agriculture during 2021—stay tuned for this episode to air during Season 9!

Page with text and images of two yellow pears--one smaller and lighter in color; the other larger and more orange
This page features two pears, “Lawrence” and “Triumph,” distributed by Stark Bro’s and illustrated in
Stark Fruits as Grown by Stark Bro's Nurseries & Orchards Co., 1902, page 51. / THF610234

IYFV Goal Four: Sharing best practices on:

  • Promotion of consumption and sustainable production of fruits and vegetables that contributes to sustainable food systems;
  • Improved sustainability of storage, transport, trade, processing, transformation, retail, waste reduction and recycling, as well as interactions among these processes;
  • Integration of smallholders including family farmers into local, regional, and global production, value/supply chains for sustainable production and consumption of fruits and vegetables, recognizing the contributions of fruits and vegetables, including farmers’ varieties/landraces, to their food security, nutrition, livelihoods and incomes;
  • Strengthening the capacity of all countries, specially developing countries, to adopt innovative approaches and technology in combating loss and waste of fruits and vegetables.


The fourth goal, to improve supply chains, applies to two very different aspects of fruits and vegetables. One relates to the delivery of seasonal fruits and vegetables to points of sale. This was a business grew through the nineteenth and twentieth centuries as pomologists addressed plant propagation, plant breeders like Luther Burbank created new varieties, and companies like Stark Bro’s Nurseries and Orchards Co. marketed their own plants for wholesale and retail markets. These topics and many others related to fresh fruits and vegetables are well represented in the collections of The Henry Ford.

Black-and-white photograph of people working at a long wall of boxes filled with some kind of produce
These men and boys are grading pears by size and packing them immediately after picking into wooden crates marked C.F.C.A. (California Fruit Canners Association) No. 1 and C.P.C. (California Packing Corporation). Photograph Album, California Packing Corporation Operations, circa 1922, page 5. / THF276795

Individuals sought out fruit trees and berry-bearing shrubs from companies such as Stark Bro’s because farm families had to maintain orchards that yielded fruit for many purposes and over long periods of time, from summer through frost. Those without orchards relied on public markets, or the produce section in grocery stores, for their fresh produce. A refrigerated railcar represents the complex systems of moving and hauling perishable foodstuffs.

Two people stand by a grocery cart in a room filled with shelves stocked with canned goods; other shoppers are nearby
This commissary in Richmond Hill, Georgia, circa 1947, shows shelf after shelf of canned goods, including peas, pineapple juice, orange juice, V-8 juice, and peaches, as well as a “hand” of bananas hanging on the back wall. / THF135658

Rows of cans on grocery store shelves marked the end of road for many fruits and vegetables. Many depended on these inexpensive foodstuffs, but few had a sense of the scale of production required to satisfy this demand. One California Packing Corporation photograph album shows the establishment of a Del Monte orchard described as “the largest peach and apricot orchard in the world,” with these fruits all bound for canneries and drying facilities. The H.J. Heinz Company Collection documents all steps in the process, from laying out fields, planting and cultivating plants, harvesting, processing, packing, and loading the final product into railcars for distribution.

Black photo album page with three images--two showing fields and one showing two people with hoes and shovels in a field
Planting trees, Tract #1, Spring 1920, Photograph Album, California Packing Corporation Ranches and Orchards, 1919-1927. / THF276721

The histories of fruit and vegetable supply chains raise our awareness of labor inequities, environmental degradation, and divergent opinions about plant genetics. Two overviews of one fruit, the tomato, explore all of these topics: “Multiple Takes on Tomatoes” and “Contradictory Impacts: Mechanizing California’s Tomato Harvest.”

Cream, light blue, and dark blue can label with stylized flower arrangements in vases and two large images of tomatoes
Can Label, "Luxury Brand Solid Pack Tomatoes," circa 1916. / THF294205

These resources from the collections of The Henry Ford introduce some key elements that speak to the United Nations’ International Year of Fruits and Vegetables, but also to some of the most important themes around food in general—nutrition, health, waste reduction, and sustainable supply chains. As we anticipate introducing our visitors to the Vegetable Building from Detroit Central Market in Greenfield Village during 2022, we look forward to bringing you much more on all aspects of the food production system—from fresh to freeze-dried and beyond.


Debra A. Reid is Curator of Agriculture and the Environment at The Henry Ford.

farming, agriculture, food, #THFCuratorChat, by Debra A. Reid

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