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Stories From the Collection

Stories showcase digitized materials from our general collection.

A factual, but informal look at the digital content of the National Agricultural Library's general collection.

These stories showcase digitized materials from our general collection and the role that the U.S. Department of Agriculture played in the lives of full-time farmers, the general public, and the larger world of American agriculture. Find additional materials offered through the National Agricultural Library's Digital Collections (NALDC) and the library's Internet Archives collection

Disclaimer: Some of the items featured here were published nearly a century ago. Therefore, please do not assume that all of the content reflects current scientific knowledge, policies, or practices. All views expressed in these items are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or NAL.

Unless otherwise indicated, all materials contained in these pieces are either in the public domain due to copyright expiration or because they are works produced by employees of the U.S. Government as part of their official duties and thus are not copyrighted within the United States.

The Fireless Cooker

The well-equipped kitchen of a century ago was envisioned in many home economics publications from the early twentieth century as a well-designed, pleasant place where all sorts of homemaking tasks could be performed efficiently and with minimum drudgery. At the beginning of the 1900s a specific cooking appliance gained prominence and was advocated by cookbook authors and U.S. Department of Agriculture home economists as a way to make delicious meals with minimum effort. This review will describe the development and rise of the fireless cooker, its status as a commercially marketed home kitchen appliance, and the fireless cooker's re-emergence within low-income countries.

The School Garden

In 1906 the U.S. Department of Agriculture estimated that there were 75,000 school gardens in the United States (Jewell, 1907, pp. 37-38). The first American school garden was established in 1891 at the George Putnam School in Roxbury, Massachusetts. The peak of the school garden movement was reached in the years immediately following World War I when War Gardens turned into Victory Gardens and the urgency for surplus food production began to wane. The value and use of school gardens is enjoying new life however, with the popularity of the local food movement, USDA's current Farm-to-School Program, and the USDA's People's Garden. This review of the school garden movement in the early 1900s reveals the roots of school gardening as an educational tool designed to enrich many aspects of children's lives.

Step-Saving Kitchens

To help homemakers reduce time and work involved in kitchen activities, the Bureau is designing and preparing construction drawings for kitchens, with different arrangements of equipment — the U, L, broken U and L, and parallel-wall types of arrangement. They are designed to reduce walking, stooping, and stretching to a minimum, in accordance with accepted principles of work simplification.

Stiebeling, Hazel K. (1948). Report of the Chief of the Bureau of Human Nutrition and Home Economics, Agricultural Research Administration. U.S. Department of Agriculture, p. 13.

Throughout its existence, the USDA's Bureau of Home Economics used principles of systematic research to devise the best designs for efficient kitchens and farmhouses. This post showcases several of the more prominent results of this work.

Lima Beans

The lima bean (Phaseolus lunatus L.) has a long and distinguished history that might surprise those of us who know it only as a humble ingredient of succotash.

This short review addresses the many roles played by the lima bean in culture, cuisine, and agricultural science. It also includes a small sample of the many publications produced by the U.S. Department of Agriculture to document the scientific development of lima beans and also to help farmers establish, grow, and manage this crop.

The Dirt Roads of Rural America

At the beginning of the year 1913, 90 per cent, or approximately 2,000,000 miles, of the roads in this country were earth. The repair and proper maintenance of earth roads are therefore of great importance.

Hewes, Laurence I. (1913). Repair and Maintenance of Highways. U.S. Department of Agriculture. Office of Public Roads. Bulletin Number 48, p. 35.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture issued publications in the early 1900s that provided guidance on the best ways to build, maintain, and improve the earth roads that were common in rural America at that time. Here is a selection from these USDA reports, along with some supplementary text, to provide a larger context.

Subsistence Homesteads

In response to the Great Depression, a Federal housing program was created in 1933 that aimed to improve the living conditions of people coming from overcrowded urban centers, while simultaneously giving them a new opportunity to experience small-scale farming and home ownership.

The homesteads were organized as examples of how the country could benefit from a proliferation of semirural neighborhoods, where part-time farming on inexpensive but desirable land would encourage uplifting social functions and help establish a better way of life. Combining the benefits of rural and urban living (rurban), the communities were to encompass a new expression of some basic American values and demonstrate the path toward a healthier and more economically secure future.

Carriker, R.M. (2010). Urban Farming in the West: A New Deal Experiment in Subsistence Homesteads. Tucson: University of Arizona Press, p. 3.

This review of the Subsistence Homestead program showcases the materials produced by the Department of Agriculture to help the public take part in this form of "rurban" life.

Cranberries

The journey of the cranberry from the bog to the annual holiday dinner table does not follow a straightforward path.

Although the link between American fall and winter holidays, roasted turkey, and cooked cranberries is a tight one in the current food landscape, there is no clear precedent for these particular foods within the history of Thanksgiving. This short review shares the small amount of evidence to support the tradition of cranberries with Thanksgiving and early American cuisine, along with the ways in which the U.S. Department of Agriculture supported farmers as they established, grew, and maintained this unique food crop. The USDA's Agricultural Research Service is also investigating this food for its unique properties, including its ability to prevent urinary tract infections and its nature as a source of flavonols.

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Digital Library Branch (DLB)