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A pattern of Black activism exists, a pattern evident in the work of individuals who dedicate themselves to improving the health and wellbeing of others. These individuals may best be described as “food soldiers.” They arm themselves with evidence from agricultural and domestic science. They build their defenses one market garden at a time. They ally with grassroots activists, philanthropists, and policy makers who support their cause. Past action informs them, and they in turn inspire others to use their knowledge to build a better nation.

Three Black women sit and stand around a table that holds food packages
June Sears, Rosemary Dishman, and Dorothy Ford Discussing Women's Nutrition, May 1970. / THF620081

Food Sources


Food is one of life’s necessities (along with clothing and shelter). Centuries of legal precedent confirmed the need for employers to provide a food allowance (a ration), as well as clothing and shelter, to “bound” employees. For example, a master craftsman had to provide life’s necessities to an indentured servant, contracted to work for him for seven years, or a landowner was legally required (though adherence and enforcement varied) to provide food, clothing, and shelter to an enslaved person, bound to labor for life. This legal obligation changed after the Civil War with the coming of freedom.

Landowner R.J. Hart scratched out the clause in a contract that obligated him to furnish “healthy and substantial rations” to a freedman in 1868. Hart instead furnished laborer Henry Mathew housing (“quarters”) and fuel, a mule, and 35 acres of land. In exchange, Mr. Mathew agreed to cultivate the acreage, to fix fencing, and to accept a one-third share of the crop after harvest. The contract did not specify what Mr. Mathew could or should grow, but cotton dominated agriculture in the part of Georgia where he lived and farmed after the Civil War.

Double image showing people of color picking cotton in a field with a large basket of cotton in foreground
Cotton is King, Plantation Scene, Georgia, 1895 / THF278900

This new agricultural labor system—sharecropping—took hold across the cotton South. As the number of people laboring for a share of the crops increased, those laborers’ access to healthy foods decreased. Instead of gardening or raising livestock, sharecroppers had to concentrate on cash-crop production—either cotton or more localized specialty crops such as sugar cane, rice, or tobacco. Anything they grew for themselves on their landlord’s property went first to the landlord.

Man hooks large basket up to a wooden framework in a clearing among buildings and trees as other people with baskets sit nearby
Postcard, "Weighing Cotton in the South," 1924 / THF8577

With no incentive or opportunity to garden, sharecroppers had few options but to buy groceries on credit from local merchants, who often were also the landowners. A failed crop left sharecroppers even more indebted, impoverished, and malnourished. This had lasting consequences for all, but race discrimination further disadvantaged Black Southerners, as sociologist Stewart Tolnay documented in The Bottom Rung: African American Family Life on Southern Farms (1999).

As food insecurity increased across the South, educators added agricultural and domestic science to classroom instruction. Many schools, especially land-grant colleges, gained distinction because of this practical instruction. Racism, however, limited Black students’ access to education. Administrators secured private funding to deliver similar content to Black students at private institutes and at a growing number of public teacher-training schools across the South.

Brass microscope with long viewing tube, flat platform for specimens, and heavy brass feet
Microscope Used by George Washington Carver, circa 1900, when he taught agricultural science at Tuskegee Normal and Industrial Institute, as it was known at the time. / THF163071

Lessons in domestic science aligned with agricultural science most obviously in courses in market gardening. A pamphlet, Everyday Life at Hampton Institute, published around 1907, featured students cultivating, harvesting, and marketing fresh fruits and vegetables. Female students also processed and preserved these foods in domestic science classes. Graduates of these programs stood at the ready to share nutrition lessons. Many, however, criticized this training as doing too little to challenge inequity.

Men of color sit and stand around a piles of different vegetables at one side of a cobblestone street with buildings and horses and carriages behind them
Sixth Street Market, Richmond, Va., 1908-1909 / THF278870

Undaunted food soldiers remained committed to arguing for the value of raising healthy foods to build healthy communities. They justified their advice by tying their self-help messages to other goals. Nature study, a popular approach to environmental education early in the twentieth century, became a platform on which agricultural scientist George Washington Carver built his advocacy for gardening, as Nature Study and Children’s Gardens (1910) indicates.

Page with text and photo of children in a field
Nature Study and Children's Gardens, circa 1910, page 6 / THF213304

Opportunity increased as the canning industry offered new opportunities for farm families to produce perishable fruits and vegetables for shipment to processors, as well as for home use. Black experts in agriculture and domestic science encouraged Black landowning farm families that could afford the canning equipment to embrace this opportunity. These families also had some local influence and could encourage broader community investment in new market opportunities, including construction of community canning centers and purchase of canning equipment to use in them.

Title page containing text
The Canning and Preserving of Fruits and Vegetables in the Home, 1912 / THF288039

Nutritionists who worked with Black land-owning farm families reached only about 20 percent of the total population of Black farmers in the South. Meeting the needs of the remaining 80 percent required work with churches, clubs, and other organizations. National Health Week, a program of the National Negro Business League, began in 1915 to improve health and sanitation. This nation-wide effort put the spotlight on need and increased opportunities for Black professionals to coordinate public aid that benefitted families and communities.

Black woman, seated, with infant on lap and toddler standing beside her
Nutritionists advocated for maternal health. This studio portrait features a woman with two children, circa 1920, all apparently in good health. / THF304686

New employment opportunities for nutritionists became available during the mid-1910s. Each Southern state created a “Negro” Division within its Agricultural Extension Service, a cooperative venture between the national government’s U.S. Department of Agriculture and each state’s public land-grant institution. Many hired Black women trained at historically Black colleges across the South. They then went on the road as home demonstration agents, sharing the latest information on nutrition and food preservation.

Woman at wheel of old-fashioned car with man visible in seat behind her; houses behind them
Woman driving Chevrolet touring car, circa 1930. Note that the driver of this car is unidentified, but she represents the independence that professional Black women needed to do their jobs, which required travel to clients and work-related meetings. / THF91594

Class identity affected tactics. Black nutritionists were members of the Black middle class. They shared their wellness messages with other professional women through “Colored” women’s club meetings, teacher conferences, and farmer institutes.

Home economics teachers and home demonstration agents worked as public servants. Some supervisors advised them to avoid partisanship and activist organizations, which could prove difficult. For example, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), most noted for attacking inequity through legal challenges, first hosted Baby Contests in 1924. These contests had double meanings. For nutritionists, healthy babies illustrated their wellness message. Yet, “Better Baby” contests had a longer history as tools used by eugenicists to illustrate their race theory of white supremacy. The most impoverished and malnourished often benefitted least from these middle-class pursuits.

Round red button on black background with text "N.A.A.C.P 1948"
Button, National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, 1948 / THF1605

 

Nutrition

 

Nutrition became increasingly important as science linked vitamins and minerals to good health. While many knew that poor diets could stunt growth rates and negatively affect reproductive health, during the 1920s and 1930s medical science confirmed vitamins and minerals as cures for some diseases that affected children and adults living in poverty. This launched a virtual revolution in food processing as manufacturers began adding iodine to salt to prevent goiters, adding Vitamin D to milk to prevent rickets, and adding Vitamin B3 to flour, breads, and cereals to prevent pellagra.

Brown bottle with blue text and image of boy in overalls with Peter Pan-type hat
"Blue Boy Sparkle" Milk Bottle, 1934-1955 / THF169283

It was immediately obvious that these cures could help all Americans. The American Medical Association’s Committee on Foods called for fortifying milk, flour, and bread. The National Research Council first issued its “Recommended Dietary Allowances” in 1941. Information sharing increased during World War II as new wartime agencies reiterated the benefits of enriched foods.

Page with text of various sizes and colors
World War II Poster, "Enrichment is Increasing; Cereals in the Nutrition Program," 1942 / THF81900

Black nutritionists played a significant role in this work for many reasons. They understood that enriched foods could address the needs of Black Americans struggling with health concerns. They knew that poverty and unequal access to information could slow adoption among residents in impoverished rural Black communities. Black women trained in domestic science or home economics also understood how racism affected health care by reducing opportunities for professional training and by segregating care into underfunded and underequipped doctor’s offices, clinics, and hospitals. That segregated system further contributed to ill health by adding to the stress level of individuals living in an unequal system.

Mobilization during World War II offered additional opportunities for Black nutritionists. The program for the 1942 Southern Negro Youth Conference at Tuskegee Institute addressed “concrete problems which the war has thrust in the forefront of American life.” Of the conference’s four organizing principles, two spoke directly to the aims of food soldiers: "How can Negro youth on the farms contribute more to the nation’s war production effort?” and “How can we strengthen the foundations of democracy by improving the status of Negro youth in the fields of: health and housing; education and recreation; race relations; citizenship?”

White page with blue-tinted text and multiple images
Program for the 5th All -Southern Negro Youth Conference, "Negro Youth Fighting for America," 1942 / THF99161

 

Extending the Reach

 

Food soldiers knew that the poorest suffered the most from malnutrition, but times of need tended to result in the most proactive legislation. For example, high unemployment during the Great Depression led to increased public aid. The Works Progress Administration (WPA) built new schools with cafeterias and employed dieticians to establish school lunch programs. Impoverished families also had access to food stamps to offset high food prices for the first time in 1939 through a New Deal program administered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

White woman stands behind table laden with plates of food in wood-paneled room
Elizabeth Brogdon, Dietitian at George Washington Carver School, Richmond Hill, Georgia, circa 1947 / THF135669

Elizabeth Speirs Brogdon (1915–2008) opened school lunchrooms under the auspices of the WPA in 19 Georgia counties for six years. She qualified for her position with a B.S. in home economics from Georgia State College for Women, the state’s teacher’s college, and graduate coursework in home economics at the University of Georgia (which did not officially admit women until after she was born).

While Mrs. Brogdon could complete advanced dietetics coursework in her home state, Black women in Georgia had few options. The Georgia State Industrial College for Colored Youth, designated as Georgia’s Black land-grant school at the time, did not admit women as campus residents until 1921, and did not offer four-year degrees until 1928. Black women seeking advanced degrees in Home Economics earned them at Northern universities.

Flemmie Pansy Kittrell (1904–1980), a native of North Carolina and graduate of Virginia’s Hampton Institute, became the first Black woman to hold a PhD in nutrition (1938) from Cornell University. Her dissertation, “A Study on Negro Infant Feeding Practices in a Selected Community of North Carolina,” indicated the contribution that research by Black women could have made, if recognized as valid and vital.

Increased knowledge of the role of nutrition in children’s health informed Congress’s approval of the National School Lunch Program in 1946. In addition to this proactive legislation, some schools, including the school in Richmond Hill, Georgia, where dietitian Elizabeth Brogdon worked, continued the tradition of children’s gardens to ensure a fresh vegetable supply.

Black child holding large bunch of greens in a farm field of the same greens
Child in a School Vegetable Garden, Richmond Hill, Georgia, circa 1940 / THF288200

The pace of reform increased with the arrival of television. The new medium raised the conscience of the nation by broadcasting violent suppression of peaceful Civil Rights demonstrations. This coverage coincided with increased study of the debilitating effects of poverty in the United States. Michael Harrington’s book The Other America (1962) increased support for national action to address inequity, including public health. President Lyndon Baines Johnson’s “War on Poverty” became a catalyst for community action, action that Kenneth Bancroft Clark analyzed in A Relevant War Against Poverty (1969).

Michigan examples indicate how agricultural policy expanded public aid during the 1960s. President Johnson’s War on Poverty expanded public programs. This included a new Food Stamp Program in 1964, a recommitment to school lunch programs, and new nutrition education programs, all administered through the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Nutritionists, including June L. Sears, played a central role in implementing this work.

Three Black women sit and stand around a table that holds food packages
“June Sears, Rosemary Dishman, and Dorothy Ford Discussing Women's Nutrition,” May 1970. Rosemary Dishman served as a program aide and Dorothy Ford as supervising aide for Michigan’s Expanded Nutrition Program. / THF620081

Mrs. Sears earned her bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Wayne State University in Detroit and taught home economics before becoming the “Family Living Agent” in the Cooperative Extension Service of Michigan State University (Michigan’s land-grant university). In that capacity, she, along with Rosemary Dishman and Dorothy Ford, worked with low-income families in two metropolitan Detroit counties (Wayne and Oakland), educating them about nutrition and meal planning. The USDA’s Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program (EFNEP), funded in 1969, sustained this work.

Public aid became a central component of U.S. farm bills by 1973. That year, the Agriculture and Consumer Protection Act reaffirmed the deployment of excess agricultural production to meet consumer need. Additional legislation, the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC), funded in 1975, and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), evolved to meet need.

And need was great.

Detroit Mayor Coleman Young explained in February 1975 that as many as 200,000 of his city’s 1.5 million citizens were undernourished. This extreme need existed despite efforts to address food insecurity, documented as an issue that mobilized protestors during the violent summer of 1967. Then, investigations by Detroit-based Focus: HOPE, a community advocacy organization, confirmed that food was more expensive for lower-income Detroiters than for some wealthier suburbanites, a condition now described as a “food desert.”

People of color stand by tables containing food in an industrial-looking space
“Depression's Harsh Impact at the Focus: HOPE Food Prescription Center in Detroit” Photograph, March 1975 / THF620068

Focus: HOPE staff opened a “Food Prescription Center,” stocked with USDA commodities that included enriched farina wheat cereal, canned meats, and other supplements.

Round button with top portion displaying a white hand and word "hope" on a black background, and the bottom half with the same elements but black and white reversed
Focus: HOPE Button, 1999 / THF98376

Commodity packaging has changed, as has farm policy over the years, but nutrition remains foundational to human health and well-being, and private and public partnerships remain essential to meeting need. The work continues with organizations such as Diversify Dietetics, Inc., which exists “to increase the racial and ethnic diversity in the field of nutrition.”

 

Food & Freedom

 

While nutritionists worked with schools, cooperative demonstration programs, and public service organizations, another brigade of food soldiers linked farming to full citizenship.

Mississippi activist Fannie Lou Hamer built her freedom struggle around land ownership and family farming. She founded Freedom Farms Cooperative to provide land to displaced sharecroppers, where they could grow crops and livestock and build self-esteem.

Hamer’s story, and those of other Black farm advocates, draw attention to a farm movement linked to the freedom struggle. A rich and growing body of scholarship indicates how much there is to learn about this movement. Two books, Greta De Jong’s You Can’t Eat Freedom: Southerners and Social Justice after the Civil Rights Movement (2016) and Monica M. White’s Freedom Farmers: Agricultural Resistance and the Black Freedom Movement (2018), document the geographic range and approaches taken by food soldiers. White devotes a chapter to the Detroit Black Community Food Security Network as an example of Northern urban agriculture.

Stalks and leaves in a plot with fall-colored trees in the background and a yellow, red, and green sign reading "D-Town" in the foreground
Brussel Sprout Stalks after Harvest, Detroit Black Community Food Security Network, October 30, 2010 / THF87927

Other farmers write their own story, as does Leah Penniman, recipient of the James Beard Leadership Prize in 2019. She outlines best practices for establishing and sustaining a Black farm cooperative in her book, Farming While Black: Soul Fire Farm's Practical Guide to Liberation on the Land (2018).

Another model takes the form of social entrepreneurship, as undertaken by Melvin Parson, The Henry Ford’s first Entrepreneur in Residence (2019), funded by the William Davidson Foundation Initiative for Entrepreneurship. You can hear Farmer Parson (as his friends call him) compare his entrance into market gardening to taking a seat at the table as a full member of society.

A Black man kneels in a field, examining soil, next to a tiller
“Melvin Parson Gardening during the Entrepreneurship Interview” / THF295401

Farmer Parson founded We The People Growers Association (now We The People Opportunity Farm) to help formerly incarcerated individuals transition back into freedom.

A Black man walks in a field guiding a tiller, with houses and fencing in the background
“Melvin Parson Gardening during the Entrepreneurship Interview” / THF295369

What nutritionist would you feature in your poster depicting the power of healthy food and race activism?

Yellow t-shirt with black caricature drawing of a man with large fork along with text and images
“We The People Opportunity Center” T-Shirt, circa 2019 / THF185710

Learn more with a visit to our pop-up exhibit on the same topic in Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation now through March 31.


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

education, women's history, farming, agriculture, Civil Rights, African American history, by Debra A. Reid, food, #THFCuratorChat, Henry Ford Museum

The Henry Ford acquired the Vegetable Building from Detroit's Central Farmers Market in 2003, saving it from demolition. Like the farmers markets of today, the Detroit Central Farmers Market was a gathering place – a commercial center, a hub of entrepreneurship and a community space where family, friends, and neighbors congregated and socialized. 

This farmers market can become a destination again, a resource for exploring America's agricultural past, present, and future. We need your help to make this happen. #PledgeYourPassion by making a gift this Giving Tuesday

Vegetable Building at Detroit Central Farmers Market, circa 1888.
Vegetable Building at Detroit Central Farmers Market, circa 1888. THF200604 

Learn more about the remarkable history of this important structure.  

The City of Detroit invested in a new permanent market building - this expansive vegetable hall - in 1860. Located at the east end of Michigan Avenue, just east of Woodward at Campus Martius, it was roughly four blocks square, extending from Woodward to Randolph. The major building in the market was the expansive vegetable building. Market gardeners, florists, orchardists, and nurserymen sold their produce from rented stalls between 1861 and 1893.  

The growth of Central Market reflects Detroit’s growth as a city. Much of Detroit’s early history revolved around its importance as a port and strategic location in the Great Lakes. During the 19th century, Detroit’s manufacturing base and its population grew rapidly, more than doubling every 10 years from just 2,222 people in 1830 to 45,619 in 1860. The Central Market was the first Detroit market not located by the docks, reflecting the city’s transition from a port town to a city. Farmers were now coming to Detroit to sell to city residents, rather than to ship produce to eastern cities.

1884 Sanborn insurance map of Central Market
This certified 1884 Sanborn insurance map shows the Central Market area, including the Vegetable Building and other shops. 

The Central Farmers Market began in 1843 as a simple shed built off the rear of the old City Hall building. Problems with traffic congestion caused by the market, along with the desire to make the prominent square more presentable, led newly elected Mayor Christian H. Buhl to pledge to build a new covered market building. The city hired local architect John Schaffer to develop plans. Schaffer’s design called for a “structure to be comprised of forty-eight iron columns supporting a wooden roof, [measuring] 70 by 242 feet from outside to outside.” The construction contract was awarded in June to Joel Gray at a cost of $5,312. In late September of 1860, the Detroit Free Press wrote: 

“The new market building in the rear of the City Hall is nearly competed and promises to be a fine structure. It covers the whole of the space occupied as a vegetable market, and consists of an open shed, the roof of which is supported on iron columns and a well-finished framework. The roof is of slate and cost about $1,500. It is designed in time to make a tile floor and erect fountains. The building will accommodate all the business of the market and will constitute an ornament as well as a great convenience to that important branch of city commerce.”

Carved wooden ornamentation on the Detroit Central Farmers Market building
Carved wooden ornamentation enhanced the appearance of the market building. THF113542 

In its first year, the market earned the city $1,127 in rent, covering 20% of the construction costs in one year. The building thrived as the vegetable market through the 1880s. The emergence of the Eastern Market, and the continuing desire to open the street to traffic, led the Common Council to decide to close the Central Market in 1892. In 1893 the Parks and Boulevards Commission, which operated Belle Isle, received approval to move the building to Belle Isle for use as a horse and vehicle shelter. The building was re-erected on Belle Isle in 1894. 

In later years it was converted to a riding stable – the sides were bricked in, the roof was altered to add clerestory windows to let in light, and an office and wash area was constructed in the south end. After the riding stable closed in 1963, the building was used to keep the horses of the Detroit Mounted Police, and then later used for storage. It was considered for demolition since the early 1970s. Over the summer of 2003, the building was dismantled and the parts from the original market building were preserved for re-erection in Greenfield Village.

Detroit Central Market building converted to a riding stable and moved to Belle Isle
After the market building was moved to Belle Isle, it was converted to a riding stable. It had been vacant for more than 20 years at the time of this photo. THF113549 

The Detroit Central Farmers Market vegetable building is a rare and important building. Because of fires and development pressures, wooden commercial buildings, particularly timber-framed buildings, rarely survive to the present in urban settings. This may be the only 19th century timber-frame market building surviving in the United States. Its move to Belle Isle saved it from demolition.

Historic view of the Detroit Central Farmers Market, taken in the late 1880s.
Historic view of the Detroit Central Farmers Market, taken in the late 1880s. THF96803 

The building is architecturally significant. It is an excellent expression of prevailing architectural tastes, as demonstrated by the Free Press review. It captures the rapidly changing world of building construction of the mid-19th century. The building represents the pinnacle of the timber framer’s craft; it is elegantly shaped and ornamented in a way that makes the frame itself the visual keystone of the design. It was built shortly before timber frame construction was eclipsed by the new balloon frame construction, which used dimensional lumber and nailed joints. The cast iron columns that support the timber-framed roof represent the newest in manufactured construction materials. Cast iron was the favorite material of the modern builder in the mid-19th century. It was easy to form into a variety of shapes, and ideal for adding ornamentation to buildings at a moderate cost. The columns in the market building have been formed to represent two different materials – the lower section resembles an elaborately carved stone column, while the upper section looks like the timber frame structure that it supports.

thf113530
Elegant joinery, supplemented by elaborated carvings, enhances the appearance of the timber frame. THF113530

Cast-iron columns on the Detroit Central Farmers Market building made to resemble stone below the capital and wood above the capital.
The cast-iron columns were made to resemble stone below the capital and wood above the capital. THF113505


The building captures the exuberance and optimism of the city of Detroit as it grew in its first wave from a frontier fort and outpost, to an important city. A “useful and beautiful” market building in the city’s central square was important to this image of this growing city – as evidenced by the fact that it took only nine months from Mayor Buhl’s inaugural address of January 11, 1860 promising a new market building, to its substantial completion. Few buildings survive from this first era of growth in the city of Detroit.  

For 30 years customers engaged with vendors at the Vegetable Building in Detroit's Central Market. For 110 years the building served the public in a variety of ways on Belle Isle. Your donation will help The Henry Ford rebuild this structure in the heart of Greenfield Village. There it will inspire future generations to learn about their food sources. Make history and #PledgeYourPassion this Giving Tuesday

Jim McCabe is Collections Manager at The Henry Ford.

 

philanthropy, farming, Michigan, Detroit, Greenfield Village buildings, Greenfield Village, by Jim McCabe, shopping, agriculture

Apples on the Farm

September 10, 2013 Think THF

Raise your hand if a visit to your local cider mill is on your to-do list right now. (We thought it might be!) The promise of cooler days and falling leaves have many of us pining away for a glass of cold apple cider.

Almost 30 years ago the Firestone Orchard was planted in Greenfield Village. Having an apple orchard was an incredibly valuable asset to 19th century farmers like the Firestones, according to Firestone Farm Manager Ryan Spencer. Apples had a variety of uses beyond simple consumption. Not only might a farmer have his own orchard, but it wouldn’t be uncommon to see an apple tree right by the farm house’s kitchen window; it made for easier apple snacking!

From ciders to jams and jellies, apples were an important staple on the farm. Apples were often dried or stored in cellars to be consumed when fresh fruit wasn’t available at certain times during the year. Dried apple pie was a regular option for the family diet during the winter, a fact that many farmers lamented over time.

The types of apple varieties available in the late 19th century were ever-changing as farmers heard about certain varieties doing well in one part of the country and wanting to try those out for themselves.

Between the 1870s and 1900, America lost a lot of great apple varieties. Why? Orchards began to dwindle in number due to concerns of disease and the temperance movement. (It’s safe to say that Carrie Nation was no fan of applejack.) While all of this was going on, Washington was actually planting more apple trees, soon making them one of the largest apple producers, thanks to the state’s good climate.

Firestone Farm

Today at Firestone Farm you can find our staff drying apples, pressing sweet apple cider, or making apple sauce and apple jelly during the early fall. During our Fall Flavor weekends we’ll not only be doing that, but we’ll be giving tours of our apple orchard, too. Right now our Baldwins and Belmonts are getting ready, our summer Rambo is looking good, and our Maiden’s Blush is, well, getting a bit rosier.

In the mood to bake something with apples now? Try a few recipes from our historic recipe bank as you get ready to embrace all-things apple this fall. Looking for something a bit more modern? Try this recipe for applesauce cake from the 1997 edition of The All New Joy of Cooking. Whichever recipe you try, make sure to tell us what you thought of the recipes by sharing your reactions with #THFOnLiving.

Boiled Cider Apple Sauce (from the 1877 edition of Buckeye Cookery and Practical Housekeeping)

Pare, quarter and core apples sufficient to fill a gallon porcelain kettle, put in it a half gallon cider, let it boil. Wash the apples and put in kettle, place a plate over them, and boil steadily but not rapidly until they are thoroughly cooked, testing by taking one from under the edge of the plate with a fork. Do not remove the plate until done, or the apples will sink to the bottom and burn. Mrs. W.W. W.

Apple-Butter Custard Pie (Buckeye Cookery, 1890)

Beat together four eggs, one tea-cup apple-butter, one of sugar, one level table-spoon allspice, and one quart sweet milk and pinch of salt; bake in three pies with an under-crust; - and, by the way, never omit a pinch of salt in custard and lemon pie; and, in fact, many kinds of fruit pies, such as green-apple, currant, gooseberry, and pie-plant, are improved by it.

Apple Fritters (The Virginia Housewife or Methodical Cook, 1828)

Pare some apples and cut them in thin slices – put them in a bowl, with a glass of brandy, some white wine, a quarter of a pound of pounded sugar, a little cinnamon finely powdered, and the rind of a lemon grated; let them stand for some time, turning over frequently; beat two eggs very light, add one quarter of a pound of flour, a table-spoonful of melted butter, and as much cold water as will make a thin batter; drip the apples on a sieve, mix them with the batter, take one slice with a spoonful of batter to each fritter – fry them quickly of light brown – drain them well, put them in a dish, sprinkling sugar over them, and glaze them nicely.

To learn even more, Ryan recommends:

  • History of Agriculture in Ohio
  • Southmeadow Fruit Gardens
  • Henry Leuthardt Nurseries
  • Trees of Antiquity
  • Lish Dorset is Social Media Manager at The Henry Ford.

    apples, farming, farms, food

    Every winter, Firestone farmers work hard preserving meats from our December butchering. Hams, bacon and fatback are all cured using a process that would have been very familiar to the Firestones in 1885.

    Hams curing in a sugar and spice rub

    Bacon and fatback, ready to be hung in cheesecloth sacks; typically, fatback will be used for seasoning dishes rather than for frying, like bacon.

    Every day, Firestone farmers rub these cuts of meat with a mixture of salt, sugar and various spices. The salt dehydrates the meat, while sugar prevents it from getting too tough and the spices help to give the meat a nice flavor. It takes several weeks for larger cuts of meat like hams to finish curing. Once a week, old cure is removed from the meat and it is replaced with fresh cure.

    These hams will be enjoyed by Firestone farmers all throughout the year.

    Once the meat is cured, it is wrapped in cheesecloth sacks and hung in the cold room located in Firestone Farm’s cellar.

    Adding fatback to the cheesecloth sacks

    Up it goes!

    Near the meat are several other foods that were preserved last year, including dried chili peppers, pickles and crocks of sauerkraut as well as jars of tomatoes, pickled green beans, applesauce and more.

    Red chili peppers drying

    The sauerkraut inside this crock has to be maintained every week so that it doesn't spoil. Sauerkraut will be very common on the Firestone dinner table during the early spring, when fresh produce from our gardens is not yet available.The sauerkraut inside this crock has to be maintained every week so that it does not spoil. Sauerkraut will be very common on the Firestone dinner table during the early spring, when fresh produce from our gardens is not available.

    I bet the Firestone farmers can't wait to enjoy these!

    When you visit from April through November, make sure to check out the Firestone home's cellar and cold room - you'll be sure to notice our cured meat hanging from the ceiling in our cold room...and as the year progresses and the time for butchering once again approaches, there will be very little cured meat left hanging in cheesecloth.

    #Behind The Scenes @ The Henry Ford, home life, food, farming, Greenfield Village buildings, Greenfield Village, winter

    The Firestone Farm corn field is making some terrific progress, even though a flooded field in May forced us to replant. (The weather is something farmers struggle with, regardless of the year— whether it's 1885 or 2011!) In fact, it looks like most of our corn plants will still be "knee-high by the Fourth of July," despite all of our spring flooding - huzzah!

    Last week, we cultivated our corn for the second time this year. Cultivating is when we loosen the soil and remove the weeds around each corn plant.

    Because the Firestones did not use herbicides to kill weeds in their fields, they planted their corn three feet apart in each direction so that they had room to cultivate.  And like the Firestones, we use a horse-drawn cultivator remove weeds in our cornfield.

    Horse-drawn cultivator

    We take our cultivator down each row from north to south, east to west, and then diagonally. This takes a great amount of patience and skill on the part of horse, driver and operator.

    Cultivating the corn field at Firestone Farm

    We used one of our newest horses, Henry, to cultivate. Although he is very young and new to this job, he handled the tight turns well and only stepped on a few corn plants. It looks like Henry and his partner Tom are turning out to be great additions to Greenfield Village!

    Henry the Horse

    Ryan Spencer is manager of Firestone Farm in Greenfield Village. Working at The Henry Ford was a childhood dream of his – although he did not realize then that it would involve so much manure.

    corn, farming, farms

    Over the last couple of weeks, our Firestone Farm team began plowing, harrowing and planting in our cornfield, which is adjacent to William Ford Barn.

    At Firestone Farm, we use a spring- tooth and spike-tooth harrow after plowing. Plowing is the first step in the process and turns over the dirt, bringing new soil to the ground’s surface; however, it also leaves the ground very uneven, almost like waves on a choppy lake. Harrowing breaks up clods of dirt, knocks down high ridges and fills in troughs (called furrows) until the ground is smooth enough to start planting.

     

    Next came the planting. We planted a very old variety of corn, called Reid’s Yellow Dent, which was used by farmers all over the United States in the late 1800s. The corn is planted by hand using a tool called a corn jabber.

    Ryan with corn jabber

    A piece of twine with knots every three feet is stretched across the field. Two farmers work their way towards the middle of the field, planting corn wherever there is a knot in the twine.

    Planting along rows - Photo by Lee Cagle

    When they meet in the middle, Firestone farmers give each other a friendly handshake—a Greenfield Village tradition and a sign of camaraderie in hopes of a good crop yield.

    Handshake - Photo by Lee Cagle

    Spacing the corn three feet apart will allow Firestone farmers to take a horse with a special tool called a cultivator in between each row to remove weeds. Later, farmers will plant pumpkins alongside their corn; the pumpkin vines will spread all over the ground and help keep weeds under control.

    Be sure to stop by and watch the corn’s progress each week!

    corn, crops, farming, vegetables

    It's finally time - Greenfield Village re-opens this Friday, April 15! All this week, we'll focus on some of the special springtime activities that you'll see around Greenfield Village as you take that first stroll of the season. See you soon!

    There are signs of spring all over Firestone Farm in Greenfield Village: the weather is finally warming, our winter wheat is turning our field a nice shade of green, and our sheep are ready for us to shear their wool in time for warmer months ahead.

    During your April or May visit to Greenfield Village, you just might catch our farmers shearing our special wrinkly Merino sheep with the same technology used by shearers on Firestone Farm in 1885.  Want a preview? Watch our video of the sheep-shearing here (which is time-lapsed - it takes quite a bit of time!) and learn more about this process, then come visit in person and find out about the Firestone family and how their resourcefulness helped them make a profit from the wool off of their sheep.

    And do those sheep look comfortable or what? It's actually a natural response to when their feet come off the ground - it puts them in a relaxed state, which makes the shearer's job that much easier!

    Plus, our on-site and online stores are now offering a special shearing discount for high-quality yarn made right from our own sheep - two skeins for $35! Pick up a few, then get busy making your own piece of history!

    Ryan Spencer is manager of Firestone Farm in Greenfield Village. Working at The Henry Ford was a childhood dream of his – although he did not realize then that it would involve so much manure.

    farm animals, farming, sheep, sheep shearing

    Each year, Greenfield Village closes for the winter season - but that doesn't mean it lies dormant! This is the time for freshening up the homes, grounds and vehicles in preparation for the busy year ahead. Take a peek into what happens during winter in Greenfield Village - then join us in April to enjoy the results!

    In 1800s Ohio, the harsh winters provided little opportunity for families like future tire magnate Harvey Firestone's to enjoy fresh foods. In order to keep the family fed until spring, the Firestones worked hard to preserve and enjoy the crops and animals they raised all year long on the farm, which included their hogs.

    Very little of the pig went to waste, as the men of the family carefully cut pork chops, roasts, bacon and more from the animal. From there, the women rendered the fat for lard, soap and other uses.

    Today, we continue this tradition, but with trained professionals slaughtering the hogs; our Firestone Farm presenters then butcher and preserve the meat in the farmhouse's root cellar.

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    home life, farming, by Ryan Spencer, Greenfield Village buildings, Greenfield Village, food, winter

    It seems an odd notion, but as the days grow shorter and autumn’s colors begin to creep into the trees and hedgerows of Greenfield Village, the geese take wing in to their formations, and the smell of wood smoke fills the air, the connection to the past seems even stronger. For those of us who work in the living history areas of the Village, there is also a strange pressing need associated with this change of the season to begin the preparations for the long winter ahead.

    At the two main living history sites in the Village, Daggett Farm and Firestone Farm, the slower pace of the long summer days begins to quicken as the harvest season approaches.  For our visitors, it’s a fascinating view of preparations and work with similar goals, but with very different sets of tools and technology available to achieve these goals.  The colonial Daggett family and the Victorian Firestones both needed to harvest their crops, store away vegetables and fruits, and prepare and preserve a winter’s meat supply.  And, everybody made cider!

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    farms, farming, Greenfield Village buildings, Greenfield Village, by Jim Johnson, recipes, agriculture, food, harvest, fall