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Posts Tagged food

Catch a glimpse of Brian Yazzie’s left arm, and you’ll see cranberries, sumac, and sunflowers near his wrist, blue Hopi corn on his forearm and Navajo squash holding court at his elbow. An illustrated sleeve of more produce and wild game are up next for the right.

Man in short-sleeved blue button-down shirt with embroidery of flowers and vegetables along one side stands in a desert landscape with cacti and mountains
Chef Brian Yazzie. / Photo courtesy Brian Yazzie

The inspiration behind the ever-growing tattooed bounty of Native American produce started at age 7 for Yazzie, when the aromatics of Navajo blue corn mush or the sound of a knife tapping on a cutting board drew him into the kitchen to help cook for his large family. Raised by a single mother in Dennehotso, Arizona, located on the northeast part of the Navajo Nation, Yazzie remembers eating traditional and freshly foraged foods like wild spinach and pine nuts but also commodity foods like government cheese, canned chicken, and powdered milk.

“That was what we grew up on,” said Yazzie. “But for me, as long as we had food, we were OK.”

He discovered his passion for cooking but at the time was equally lured into gang life, spending his teenage years in and out of detention centers and county jails and skipping classes, sometimes to just hide out in the home economics classroom.

“I was blessed never to end up in prison or passing on,” said Yazzie, whose sisters would call to tell him to come home because they missed his food. “That was their way of checking up on me. Cooking always kept me out of trouble; it’s what saved my life.”

It’s also what prompted Yazzie and his wife, Danielle Polk, to settle in the Twin Cities in 2013. They wanted opportunity but also to stay connected to Native communities. “The Twin Cities has one of the top five Native urban populations in the U.S.,” said Yazzie, who works closely with the Dakota and Ojibwe tribes there while continuing to help the Dennehotso reservation and other tribal communities around the United States.

In 2014, Yazzie enrolled at Saint Paul College, where his first assignment as a culinary student was to perfect any dish from around the world. “I wanted to make something beyond frybread, but I realized at least 50% of ingredients inside Navajo tacos are native to the Americas,” said Yazzie.

Toppings like summer squash, peppers, and eggplant reminded him of French ratatouille, and he found his dish. More importantly, he discovered the larger influence of Indigenous foods and his passion for reviving, celebrating, and recognizing their ancestral origins.

Seed packet with yellow bands with text at top and bottom and large image of green bell pepper
Chef Yazzie found inspiration in eggplant, summer squash, and peppers, like the one on this circa 1951 seed packet from our collection, during his first assignment as a culinary student. / THF294269

He and Polk started a Native American Club on campus and connected with local chef/author/educator Sean Sherman, CEO of The Sioux Chef, to cater one of their events. “Seventy-five percent of the appetizers he served were foreign to me,” said Yazzie, who went on to work for Sherman before he and Polk started their own catering company, Intertribal Foodways. “We wanted to bring awareness to what’s been overlooked for so long.”

Along with showcasing Native ingredients and techniques, that’s also meant addressing health issues like diabetes that have long affected Indigenous communities. “We try to implement food as medicine,” said Yazzie, now executive chef of the Gatherings Cafe inside the Minneapolis American Indian Center. “Especially during this pandemic, we have to keep our elders strong and safe; a lot of them hold lost languages and teachings.”

After COVID-19 hit, Yazzie and his team started making 200 healthy meals a day for elders in the Twin Cities, established a Dennehotso COVID-19 relief fund, and regularly sent healthy food and supplies to the Apache County community. He works with local farmers and foragers to bring Native ingredients into his food whenever he can, even if it means taking baby steps with dishes like unhealthy frybread (created by Yazzie’s Navajo ancestors while they were in internment camps at Fort Sumner, New Mexico, in the 1860s). “It’s still on the table across North America as a survival staple for tribal communities, especially during the pandemic, so I had to take a step back and listen to my elders, but we’re getting there,” said Yazzie, who lightens up the wheat-heavy bread with amaranth flour or wild rice flour.

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healthcare, COVID 19 impact, recipes, food insecurity, restaurants, food, The Henry Ford Magazine, by Liz Grossman

In mid-August 2020, Dan Giusti posted a picture on Instagram of an empty cafeteria. Communal tables were stacked against the walls, and single spaced-out desks and chairs took their place. “Maybe a new norm?” he asked in the caption.

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school, childhood, COVID 19 impact, by Liz Grossman, food, The Henry Ford Magazine

Five women hold produce behind tables covered in boxes full of vegetables
Feed Your Brain free food pop-ups on campus at Hamline University are making healthier pantry and produce options available to hungry college students. Hamline students pictured, from left: Maggie Bruns, Feed Your Brain co-founder Emma Kiley, Maddie Guyott, Feed Your Brain co-founder An Garagiola-Bernier, and Najma Omar. / Photo courtesy Andy King


On October 26, 2017, students of Twin Cities–based Hamline University left work and class to flock to a few benches in a campus parking lot where more than 2,000 pounds of nonperishable food items were stacked. “We ran out in 30 minutes,” recalled An Garagiola-Bernier. A sophomore at the liberal arts school at the time, she organized the donation event, called Feed Your Brain, with fellow students Elise Hanson and Emma Kiley.

Even if the administration couldn’t see it, these three became acutely aware of food insecurity at Hamline after a sit-in over immigration laws earlier that year. “Students posted about immigration laws being changed, and some testified to experiencing so much hunger it was affecting their ability to learn,” said Garagiola-Bernier.

Handmade sign reading "Free Food: Stop & Shop Free with the Feed Your Brain Campaign" posted in a grassy area with buildings behind it
Photo courtesy Hamline University

The three friends wanted to dig deeper. They sent a survey to all undergrads to assess how food insecurity was affecting them, and included questions that addressed sourcing culturally appropriate food and healthy options for those with allergies or chronic conditions. “They were questions nobody was asking but students were really concerned about,” said Garagiola-Bernier.

Of the nearly 360 students who responded, 76% admitted to having trouble accessing food, and findings revealed heavier insecurity among Muslim, Hispanic, trans, and gay/lesbian students.

“We wanted to make the administration, and even the general public, aware that food insecurity is a profound indicator of poverty on college campuses,” said Garagiola-Bernier. “And if someone is food insecure, they’re also likely housing insecure or experiencing trouble with utilities or health care services.”

The findings contradicted Hamline’s reputation, and that of private college campuses in general, as places of privilege where food insecurity is an unexpected issue. “College students fall into a type of policy gap where they’re considered dependents of their parents. However, we know they’re living in financially independent situations,” said Garagiola-Bernier.

The first free food pop-up more than proved that, and a second one was held a month later. Feed Your Brain pop-ups continued monthly over the next two academic years (some intentionally set up in front of administration offices), and the founders continued to research food justice and work with faculty to help find a home for a food pantry.

Shelves with cans of tuna, turkey, and vegetables, with sign reading "Take 1: Tuna or Turkey"
Photo by Sabrina Merritt / The Oracle

“It was relentless advocacy and action first, and then asking for forgiveness later if we broke the rules,” said Garagiola-Bernier.

It was important for the pop-ups to offer students access to nonperishable, non-commodity foods and fresh produce. Not only do all three founders suffer from dietary health issues, but Garagiola-Bernier, a descendent of the Bois Forte Band of Chippewa, has seen the effects of unhealthy foods. “Being a Native woman, food sovereignty is a big issue,” she said. “Being able to choose what goes into your body and the repercussions of that, whether good or bad, and not just have commodity foods switched on you is vital. I’ve seen how having access only to unhealthy foods leads to extreme health conditions.”

In 2019, Feed Your Brain found a permanent home with the help of Kiley, who became the first campus food access AmeriCorps VISTA (Volunteer in Service to America), and the organization started hosting dinners and discussions on topics like the stigma of food insecurity. “It was a space where students could have meaningful conversations around topics that are hard to talk about,” said Kiley, who has since graduated and passed the reins of VISTA on to fellow student Sophia Brown.

Standee-type blackboard sign reading "Free fresh groceries: Walker Fieldhouse Loading Dock 4-6 PM" with person walking by it holding a paper grocery bag
Photo courtesy Hamline University

This year’s survey solidified the importance of those conversations as a 15% increase in food and financial insecurity was seen among students since COVID-19 hit.

“When we started, food was the easiest entry point into this work. But at its core, it’s always been more about justice and reparations, and we used food to have those conversations,” said Kiley. “There’s a high percentage of students that are food insecure, but it’s about more than that. We have to change the way we think about distributing food so it’s more about caring for your neighbor and less about feeling bad for people or stigmatizing experiences.”


Liz Grossman is a Chicago-based writer, editor, and storyteller, and is managing editor of Plate magazine. This post was adapted from an article first published in the January–May 2021 issue of The Henry Ford Magazine.

women's history, COVID 19 impact, food insecurity, The Henry Ford Magazine, by Liz Grossman, food

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.

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

Page with red text and image of mustachioed man in chef's hat holding a whole roasted turkey
Menu-Insert Card, "Quick... Tasty... Pleasing, Hot Turkey Sandwich," 1950-1970 / THF297119


In our monthly History Outside the Box program, we highlight items from The Henry Ford’s archives through stories on our Instagram account. In August, Janice Unger, Processing Archivist at The Henry Ford, recognized National Sandwich Month with a series of sandwich-related photographs, advertisements, product labels, and more from our collections. If you missed the original Instagram story, you’re in luck—you can check out a video of the slides below.

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History Outside the Box, food, by Ellice Engdahl, by Janice Unger, archives

“The Farmer Is the Man That Feeds Us All.” The words of that folk tune became indelibly imprinted on U.S. popular culture when Alan Lomax included it as the 66th out of the 317 songs in Folk Songs of North America (in the English Language) (1960). In fact, linking “the farmer” to “the man” tells only half the story!

Painting of four women in flowing white gowns; one holds a cornucopia and one two plant fronds
Women in classical dress, 1790-1810 / THF152522

Plenty of popular images of women in agriculture exist. The painting above, rendered by a girl in Massachusetts in the early years of the new nation, shows a woman holding a cornucopia. This likely represented either Ceres, the Roman goddess of agriculture, or Copia, the Roman goddess of abundance. The goddess to the far right, holding a branch, might represent Pax, the Roman goddess of peace.

Page with text and images of woman working with some kind of tools and fabric weaving in progress
Mode of Spinning and Weaving by the Pueblo Indians, 1857 / THF621691

Abundance and peace marked a stable and secure agricultural society. Yet, farms throughout the expanding United States flourished on lands that matrilineal indigenous societies had managed for centuries before colonization. The Henry Ford acknowledges these matrilineal indigenous societies as stewards of the lands that sustained them for centuries.

Ribbon with text and a number of images
Hillsboro County Agricultural and Mechanical Fair Badge, 1852 / THF154922

The popular depictions of goddesses of agriculture, grains, harvest, and fertility continued in U.S. popular culture for decades. The agricultural fair badge above depicts either the Greek goddess, Demeter; the Roman goddess, Ceres; or America’s Lady Liberty—all matrons of agriculture.

In contrast, illustrations in The Farmers and Dairymans Almanac, published the same year (1852), featured only men engaged in the practice of growing crops and rearing livestock. The work fit the seasons—flailing grain, building fence, spreading manure, and bringing in the sheaves—but emphasized that men did agricultural work and ran the business of farming as well.

Male authority over business ventures, including farming, stemmed from legal traditions based in English common law. These included the precedent of feme covert—that married women had no legal civil identity separate from their husbands. Married women were civilly dead. Thus, only single adult women or widows could negotiate the legally binding contracts required to operate farms. Married women could not—their husbands alone had the legal authority to do so. State laws began chipping away at feme covert during the 1820s by granting married women authority over their wages, recourse if abandoned by a husband, or the privilege of parental authority. It took decades, however, before most states afforded married women authority over their property and finances.

Woman in striped dress sits on low stool, milking a cow eating hay, next to a wooden fence and building
Woman milking a cow, circa 1890 / THF228504

Women acted as farmers, nonetheless. They performed many tasks routinely, including milking cows and tending chickens.

Seven women wearing kerchiefs and long skirts work in a field
Farm scene showing Norwegian women at work in fields off Merrick Road, 1890-1915 / THF38397

Women worked in the fields, too, especially when crops needed planting, cultivating, or harvesting. Sometimes they did this work as a member of a gang of laborers. The companionship might have eased some of the tedium of hoeing around seedlings to reduce competition from weeds, but it did not ease the physical demands of the labor. The women shown above, described as Norwegian by the photographer, work in farm fields near Brooklyn, New York.

Open field with a large group of people sitting/standing/working in the distance, some with boxes
Workers in an Onion Field, H. J. Heinz Company, circa 1910 / THF291590

Perishable commodities required everyone to pitch in. The above photograph shows girls and boys, as well as women and men, busy in an onion field under contract to the H. J. Heinz Company.

Duplicate arched photographs in a frame with text, depicting people working at trees in a wooded area, one rolling a barrel into a wagon
In a Great Pine Forest, Collecting Turpentine, North Carolina / THF278800

During harvest seasons, farming needs often took precedence over domestic routines and women worked alongside men to get work done as quickly as possible. This included harvesting turpentine from long-leaf pine forests—yes, forestry work is a branch of agricultural work.

Women operated some machinery, too. Illustrated Industries and Geography of America (1882) features women and children raking hay. One illustration (page 96) shows a woman operating a Wheeler & Melick Co. rake, but this and others like it might have been pure advertising ploys, emphasizing ease of operation and celebrating the notion that “many hands make light work.” The description for the Coates Lock-Lever Hay and Grain Rake in Illustrated Industries and Geography of America (page 231) explains that “twenty acres is a fair day’s work, and as any boy or girl who can guide a horse can work it, it will readily be seen how great a labor-saver it is.”


Page with text and several line drawings that show agricultural work and tools
Illustrated Industries and Geography of America (1882), pg. 240 / THF277183

The need to get hay in dry provided opportunities for girls and women to contribute their labor. The 1882 illustration above shows a girl and a boy on horses that generate the power to raise the loaded hay fork and run it along the track to dump hay in the barn. The same illustration shows a woman at work in the dirtiest job, distributing the dumped hay in the mow.

Double arched duplicate photographs in a frame with text, showing a group of African American people standing on a large hay pile
A Rice Raft with Plantation Hands, Near Georgetown, South Carolina, 1901-1909 / THF278804

The work completed by women and children often contributed to the economic solvency of the family farm. They “gleaned” by walking through harvested fields and picking up grain and straw missed by the work crews. The photograph above shows laborers after a day at work in rice fields in South Carolina. The raft transported them and their grain and straw back home, where they hulled the grain for family use or to sell and used the straw as forage or bedding for their livestock.

Other important farm work occurred in domestic spaces. This “women’s work” should not be discounted among farm work. Women and girls ensured food security and kept farms running by raising, processing, and preserving food crops and processing animal products (eggs, dairy, meat). Several farm homes in Greenfield Village tell these critical stories.

Garden with raised wooden beds containing nasturtiums and other plants, with wooden building and windmill in the distance
Daggett Farm in Greenfield Village, September 2007 / Photographed by Michelle Andonian / THF53544

The Daggett family, of Daggett Farmhouse, had a very set routine of farm and household management tasks. Samuel Daggett ran the business side of the farm. He had to ensure harvests of enough hay to keep the cattle herd healthy, and enough small grains to satisfy family consumption needs and market income. Anna Bushnell Daggett, on the other hand, oversaw the kitchen garden, to ensure harvests adequate to feed the family. The Daggett family raised food they needed for the entire year on their farmland. They had to plan the quantity and quality of plants and vegetables they needed to grow and harvest to ensure family survival. They then had to preserve the crops by pickling, storing (in a root cellar), fermenting, or drying them to ensure a supply throughout the winter months and into the next season.

Print of aerial view of farm property, with house, outbuildings, fields, trees, cows and horses, and people
Illustrated Historical Atlas of the County of Wayne, Michigan, 1876, page 34, detail / THF126026

The Ford farmhouse functioned well under the oversight of Henry Ford’s mother, Mary Litogot Ford. She maintained the busy farmstead while ensuring that her young and growing family was well fed and healthy. She, with the help of neighboring farmgirls, milked the cattle and tended chickens. She may also have helped with pressing seasonal farm work like bringing in the hay crop, but her young family probably consumed most of her attention on the farm. Mary unfortunately passed away on March 29, 1876, and it’s hard to imagine the historical farmstead operating without her at the center (distinctive in her dress in the illustration above, published in 1876) standing with children and chickens.

Two women shuck and remove kernels from corn cobs at a kitchen table containing other dishes and food
Firestone Farm in Greenfield Village, September 2007, Photographed by Michelle Andonian / THF52966

Firestone Farmhouse provides insight into the question, “What does it take to put a meal on the table?” This work drove a farm woman’s working day as she prepared three meals each day, 365 days every year. Morning activities focused on the repetitive and time-consuming tasks of preparing, consuming, and cleaning up after breakfast, while also preparing farm-grown produce, eggs, and meat for the noon meal. Other chores, including work in the kitchen garden, processing of dairy products, and tending to the chicken flock, in addition to household chores and childcare, consumed afternoons and evenings. Evenings involved additional preparation for the same tasks repeated the next day, and so on. Disruptions to these routines included celebrations like weddings, somber events such as funerals, and the haste of harvest which increased the farm workload for all.

Black-and-white photo of wooden house with large iron kettle over ring of stones in dirt yard
Mattox Family Home in Greenfield Village, 1991 / THF45318

The center of many farm women’s lives revolved around the backyards of farm homes. Grace Mattox, her ancestors and her children, spent countless hours over decades keeping the backyard of the Mattox Family Home swept. This area, with its nearby brush arbor, provided additional space to get work done, and to visit with relatives and neighbors while they did it. The Mattox children remembered their hardscrabble existence, consisting of constant work to keep the garden cultivated, ripe vegetables processed, and food on the table.

The Henry Ford’s collections and these historic farmsteads in Greenfield Village provide a glimpse into the routines of farm women’s work. Their labor, from sun-up to sun-down, was essential to ensure the health and wellbeing of their families, as well as the smooth operation of their farms. These routines changed by the mid-twentieth century, as processed foods reduced the work required to maintain the family food supply and new farm implements replaced laborers. Often, women pursued off-farm work, but they remained essential to farm operations as their earnings helped family farms make ends meet.


Debra A. Reid is Curator of Agriculture and the Environment at The Henry Ford and Kathleen Johnson is a student at Henry Ford Academy.

Daggett Farmhouse, Greenfield Village buildings, Greenfield Village, home life, food, women's history, farms and farming, agriculture, by Kathleen Johnson, by Debra A. Reid, #THFCuratorChat

Large red wheeled piece of equipment in a field with a number of people riding on itFMC Cascade Tomato Harvester in Use, circa 1985 / THF146505


The adoption of mechanical tomato harvesters in the 1960s both industrialized tomato production and ushered in a countermovement of small growers and local food advocates. How could one machine prompt such contradictory but real changes in agriculture? The full story spans decades and reveals complex relationships of supply and demand—for both agricultural products and the people who grow and harvest them.

Shortage and Struggle


Green label with logo, text, and image of peppers and tomato half
California’s labor shortage threatened the supply of processing tomatoes for ketchup, sauces, tomato juice, canned tomatoes, and other products. Can label, "Del Monte Brand Spanish Style Tomato Sauce," circa 1930. / THF294183, detail

To meet rising demand for processing tomatoes (to be made into ketchups, sauces, tomato juice, canned tomatoes, and other products) in the early 20th century, growers needed laborers to pick them. Those laborers, in turn, needed living wages. Tensions between growers and laborers came to a head during the New Deal era of the 1930s, when government policies promised minimum wages, maximum hours, and workers’ compensation. Yet, lobbyists working for growers and agricultural processers convinced policy makers to exempt agricultural workers from these protections.

Laborers voted with their feet, seeking employment beyond farm fields. This caused a critical labor shortage that became even more acute during World War II for growers raising tomatoes and other crops in California and beyond. To meet demand, the United States and Mexican governments negotiated the Mexican Farm Labor Agreement. This guest labor program brought millions of farmworkers, known as braceros, from Mexico to work in the United States for short periods of time between 1942 and 1964.

Man sits on a stack of wood or doors with a field behind him, looking in a box; four other men look on
This photograph illustrated a news report on braceros resuming the tomato harvest near Danville, Illinois, in August 1945. / THF147934

A chain of events during the 1960s called attention to the plight of agricultural laborers. Edward R. Murrow’s television documentary Harvest of Shame (1960) highlighted the precarious existence of migrant laborers who worked picking perishable fruits and vegetables in the Midwest and along the East Coast. The Bracero Program expired in 1964, reducing the number of available laborers and increasing growers’ dependence on the existing labor pool. Congress passed the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which, along with other anti-poverty and housing legislation, made it clear that migratory and seasonal laborers had the right to humane treatment.

On the West Coast, Filipino laborers organized as part of the Agricultural Workers Organizing Committee. Seeking better wages and a more favorable rate of payment, they launched a grape strike that expanded into Delano, California, in 1965. The National Farm Workers Association, consisting mostly of Mexican migratory workers, joined the cause. This coordinated effort resulted in a new organization, the United Farm Workers (UFW), with Cesar Chavez as president.

Red flag with white circle containing stylistic, blocky silhouette of eagle and text "FARMWORKERS AFL-CIO"
The organizing efforts of groups like the United Farm Workers to secure better wages and living conditions for agricultural laborers in California gained national attention in the 1960s. United Farm Workers flag, circa 1970. / THF94392

The UFW devised innovative solutions to increase pressure on growers, and—especially due to the efforts of co-founder Dolores Huerta—built the Delano grape strike into a national boycott. This focused attention on basic needs for migratory and seasonal laborers. In addition to ensuring some protections for individuals, the coordinated effort secured the right for migratory and seasonal laborers as a class to collectively bargain.

Engineering a Solution to Labor Shortages


Tomato growers, keen on getting their crop planted, cultivated, and harvested at the optimum times, were interested in mechanical solutions that could address labor shortages. Mechanizing the harvest of this perishable commodity, however, proved to be a time-consuming challenge.

Scientists at the University of California, Davis (UC Davis), sought a labor shortage solution through mechanical and biological engineering. Research and development begun in the 1940s finally resulted in the successful design of both a mechanical tomato harvester (created in partnership with Blackwelder Manufacturing Company) and a tomato that could withstand mechanical harvesting (the VF145).

Black-and-white photo of man holding vegetable (sweet potato?) in a field
Large piece of mobile equipment in field with a number of people on it
Top: UC Davis vegetable crops researcher Gordie “Jack” Hanna developed the machine-harvestable VF145 tomato. Bottom: An early mechanical tomato harvester underway. Images from the 1968 USDA Yearbook,
Science for Better Living. / THF621133 and THF621134

By 1961, Blackwelder had released a commercial harvester and recommended the VF145 tomato for optimum mechanical harvesting. FMC Corporation released a competing harvester by 1966. Manufacturers touted the labor-saving value of mechanical harvesters at a time when the supply of laborers was too small to meet demand, and the adoption of this new technology was swift. In 1961, 25 mechanical harvesters picked about one-half of one percent of California’s tomato crop. Between 1965 and 1966, the number of harvesters doubled from 250 to 512 and the percentage of mechanically harvested tomatoes in California rocketed from 20 percent to 70 percent. By 1970, the transition was complete, with 99.9 percent of California’s tomato crop harvested mechanically. (For more, see Mark Kramer’s essay, "The Ruination of the Tomato," in the January 1980 issue of The Atlantic.)

Contradictory Impact


Some might claim mechanical harvesters helped save California’s processed tomato industry—by 1980, California growers produced 85 percent of that crop. But a closer look reveals a more complicated cause-and-effect. While growers could theoretically save their crop by replacing some labor with machines, many small-scale growers could not save their businesses from large-scale competition. By 1971, the number of tomato farmers had dropped by 82 percent. (This consolidation was mirrored elsewhere in the industry, as just four companies—Del Monte, Heinz, Campbell, and Libby’s—processed 72 percent of tomatoes by 1980.)

Page with text, image of tomatoes on tomato plants in field, and small image of piece of farm equipment
Tomato harvester advertisements promised farmers could save their businesses by replacing scarce laborers with machines, but many small-scale growers could not save themselves from large-scale competitors. Advertisement for FMC Corporation Tomato Harvester, circa 1966. / THF610767

A group of growers sued UC Davis, challenging the school for investing so much to develop the tomato harvester without spending comparable resources to address the needs of small farmers. In response, UC Davis opened its Small Farm Center, an advocacy center for alternative farmers, in 1979. These events coincided with wider efforts to hold the United States Department of Agriculture accountable for unequal distribution of support, resulting in increased attention at the national level to economically disadvantaged and ethnically diverse farmers. Around this same time, food activist Alice Waters raised awareness through her advocacy of locally sourced foods. Her restaurant, Chez Panisse, founded in Berkeley, California, in 1971, became an anchor for the burgeoning Slow Food movement.

So, while mechanical tomato harvesters—like the one on exhibit in Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation—represent large-scale scientific and industrial advances, they also offer insight into this country’s complex labor history and help tell stories about small-scale farmers and their connections to communities, customers, and all of us who eat.


Debra A. Reid is Curator of Agriculture & the Environment at The Henry Ford. Adapted by Saige Jedele, Associate Curator, Digital Content, at The Henry Ford.

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Man at wheel of vehicle with large conveyor built filled with tomatoes and tomato plants; another man stands at side and one behind

Machine-harvesting new tomato varieties, as depicted in the 1968 USDA Yearbook, Science for Better Living. / detail, THF621132

For millennia, people have domesticated plants and animals to ensure survival—this process is agriculture. And while most of us neither grow crops nor raise livestock, agriculture affects all our lives, every day: through the clothes we wear, the food we eat, and the fuel we use to move from place to place.

But agriculture is also the changing story of how this work is done. At every step, people have created new technology and tools to challenge nature’s limitations and to reduce the physical labor required to plant, cultivate, and harvest.

People produced much of what they ate until processed foods became big business in the United States during the late 1800s. As market demand increased, and commercial growing and canning grew, it prompted changes in farming. Take the tomato. Canning required ample quantity to guarantee supply, and vast fields of perishable crops required rapid harvest to ensure delivery of the best crop to processors.

Black-and-white image of a tomato field with workers in it and boxes of tomatoes at the end of some rows
Workers harvest tomatoes by hand at a Heinz farm in 1908. / THF252058

But mechanizing the tomato harvest required changing the crop—the tomato itself—so it could tolerate mechanical harvesting. During the 1940s and 1950s, crop scientists cross-pollinated tomatoes to create uniform sizes and shapes that matured at the same time, and with skins thick enough to withstand mechanical picking.

Agricultural engineers developed harvesting machines that combined levers and gears to dislodge tomatoes from the stalk and stem. But humans remained part of the harvesting process. At least eight laborers rode along on the machines and removed debris from the picked fruit.

In 1969, the first successful mechanical harvester picked tomatoes destined for processing as sauce, juice, and stewed tomatoes.

two hands holding three tomatoes, at least two of them oblong; also contains text
The 1968 United States Department of Agriculture Yearbook, Science for Better Living, depicted new machine-harvestable tomato varieties that “all ripen near same time, come from vine easily, and are firm fruited.” The oblong shape reduced rolling and bruising. / THF621135

Today, all processed tomatoes—the canned products you find on grocery store shelves—make their way from field to table via the levers, gears, and conveyor belts of a mechanical harvester. But you can still buy a hand-picked tomato at your local farmers’ market—or grow your own.

The process of growing food still involves planting and nurturing a seed. But exploring agriculture in all its complexity helps us recognize the many effects of human interference in these natural processes—an ever-changing story that affects all our daily lives.


Adapted by Saige Jedele, Associate Curator, Digital Content, from a film in Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation’s Agriculture and the Environment exhibit. The team that wrote and refined the film script included Debra Reid, Curator of Agriculture & the Environment; Ryan Jelso, Associate Curator, Digital Content; Ellice Engdahl, Manager, Digital Collections & Content; and Aimee Burpee, Associate Registrar—Special Projects.

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Print showing house and barns, orchards, cows, horses pulling wagons full of hay

William Ford’s farm, depicted in an 1876 county atlas. / THF116253

Farm families in the late 1800s often maintained orchards. Just a couple of apple, pear, plum, or cherry trees could ensure a varied diet and foodstuffs to preserve for winter. And those with land to spare could raise enough excess produce to bring to market.

William Ford, Henry Ford’s father, raised apples for market on his Dearborn, Michigan, farm. The image above, from an 1876 county atlas, shows orchard trees, and the 1880 census of agriculture (collected by the census taker in the summer of 1879) reported 200 apple trees on 4½ acres of the Ford farm—a number that would produce apples well beyond the Ford family’s needs.

Forty years later, apple trees remained part of the landscape at the farmhouse, which was restored by Henry Ford in 1919. Ford’s historical architect, Edward Cutler, drew a map that situated the homestead among outbuildings and trees. It’s difficult to make out, but Cutler identified three varieties of apple trees there—Wagner, Snow, and Greening—that were presumably grown during Henry Ford’s childhood.

At that time, illustrations from horticultural sales books and descriptions in period literature would have helped customers like the Fords determine what fruit tree varieties to buy. An 1885 book on American fruit trees described the Wagner as an early bearer of tender, juicy apples that could be harvested in November and keep until February. A nurseryman’s specimen book itemized the merits of the Snow, “an excellent, productive autumn apple” whose flesh is “remarkably [snow-]white, tender, juicy and with a slight perfume.” And an 1867 book touted the Rhode Island Greening as “a universal favorite” that bears an enormous fruit superior for cooking.

Color print with image of reddish-golden apple on bough with leaves; contains text "WAGNER"
Print with text and image of bright red apple on bough with leaves
Print of mostly yellow apple with green and red blush with bough and leaves; also contains text
Wagner, Snow, and Rhode Island Greening apple varieties, as illustrated in nurseryman’s specimen books. / THF620189, THF620326, THF620178


When Ford Home was relocated to Greenfield Village in early 1944, Edward Cutler made efforts to represent the surrounding vegetation as Henry Ford remembered it. He included apple trees, though age and condition took their toll on those plantings in the decades that followed. In 2019, The Henry Ford’s staff collaborated with Michigan State University’s Extension Office on a plan to keep the fruit trees of the historic landscapes throughout Greenfield Village healthy. Their strategy involved replacing heritage trees with young stock of the same variety. As part of this project, in April of that year, groundskeepers at The Henry Ford planted new Wagner, Snow, and Rhode Island Greening trees at Ford Home.

Man wearing camouflage jacket and green baseball cap kneels by a sapling with shovel on green lawn nearby; white picket fence and building in background
Kyle Krueger of The Henry Ford’s Grounds team plants a new Wagner apple tree near Ford Home in Greenfield Village, April 18, 2019. / Photograph by Debra Reid

It will take as many as five years before these new trees bear fruit—as long as weather conditions and the trees’ health allow it—but in the meantime, visitors to Greenfield Village can walk the orchards to check on their progress!


Debra Reid is Curator of Agriculture and the Environment at The Henry Ford. This post was adapted for the blog by Saige Jedele, Associate Curator, Digital Content. It originally ran in a spring 2019 issue of The Henry Ford’s employee newsletter.

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Color print with text "OCTOBER" at bottom and scene with people and animals working around barrels and a large pile of apples

Wood engraving showing cidermaking, 1854. / THF118316

Since Europeans first introduced apples into the North American colonies, these cultivars (Malus domestica) have been destined for a range of uses. Depending on the variety, apples grown on family farms and in commercial orchards could be eaten on their own (fresh, dried, or cooked), used as an ingredient in sweet or savory preparations, or made into apple sauce or butter; jams or jellies; apple cider (sweet or hard), brandy, or wine; or apple cider vinegar. Below, explore some of the many historical uses of this versatile fruit through selections from The Henry Ford’s Digital Collections and Historic Recipe Bank.

Apples are great for snacking as soon as they ripen, but they also store well. This made apples an important food item to preserve for the winter, when fresh fruit wasn’t available. They could be sliced and dried or packed in barrels whole to keep in a cellar or other cool space. Nurseries advertised apple varieties well-suited for this use. For example, in the early 1900s, Stark Bro's of Missouri claimed its Starking "Double-Red" Delicious apple—the company’s “latest keeper”—remained “firm, crisp, juicy, months longer than Ordinary Delicious.”

Page with text and image of bright red apple and golden/blush apple
Trade card for Stark Bro's Nurseries, Starking "Double-Red" Delicious apple trees, 1914–1940. / THF296714

As a cooked ingredient, apples featured in an array of dishes for every meal of the day—and, of course, dessert. Peeled, cored, and sliced or segmented (tasks made easier with the emergence of mechanical tools such as apple parers by the 19th century), they could be paired with any number of meats, vegetables, or other fruits, or prepared as the star, often in baked goods. The Henry Ford’s holdings include recipes for pork pie (1796), fried sausages (1896), and pork chops (1962) with apples, as well as sweet preparations like apple fritters (1828), apple-butter custard pie (1890), sweet potatoes with apples (1932), and apple crisp (1997).

Two girls sit on a bench in front of a stove; one pares an apple into a pan
Trade card depicting apple preparation in a late 1800s kitchen. / THF296481

Apples could be pickled or cooked down and made into sweet jams and jellies, applesauce, or apple butter. Pressed apples yielded sweet juice, which could be fermented into hard cider—an overwhelmingly popular beverage in colonial America and beyond. Byproducts of the cidermaking process included a kind of apple brandy (known as applejack) and cider vinegar, which was an affordable replacement for imported vinegars and could also be served as a drink called switchel. Cider “champagne” and apple wine rounded out the alcoholic beverages made from apples.

To see how the Heinz company processed apples into apple butter and cider vinegar in the early 1900s, check out this expert set.

Blue sign with text and image of apple bough and jar of apple butter
Streetcar advertising poster for Heinz apple butter, circa 1920. / THF235496

Adding to their amazing versatility, apples could also feed livestock, and wood from apple trees added flavor to smoked meats. Discover some of the many uses of apples firsthand on the working farms of Greenfield Village, and stop into Eagle Tavern to sample hot apple cider, hard cider, or applejack!


Saige Jedele is Associate Curator, Digital Content, at The Henry Ford.

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