A Brief History of Local Food

How technology and transportation have changed our relationship with food since 1788.

Green Umbrella hosts a detailed local timeline on its website, A Cincinnati Farming and Food History, that’s highlighted below. Authors Alan Wight and John Metz call it a “living project,” and readers are invited to send their edits, corrections, and additions to be incorporated into the timeline.

Settlement and Growth: Water Transportation

From 1788 to 1869, this region undergoes major settlement and colonization by European Americans. Water transportation dominates with the completion of the Ohio-Erie Canal in 1833. Important developments include an explosion of public market houses and the establishment and proliferation of a national pork industry based on the disassembly line. The urban population grows, and artisanal and cottage industries transition into larger capitalist and organizational units of production.

Railroads and Refrigeration

From 1870 to 1915, railroads take over as the primary method for transporting goods and Chicago becomes the Midwest’s agricultural and resource hub. The development of railcar refrigeration transforms how far agricultural products such as beef and peaches can be shipped. In Cincinnati, incline rail and streetcar transportation allow people and industry to break out of the Mill Creek and Ohio River basins. Food industry developments include the creation of the Kroger (1883) and Castellini (1896) companies.

The Automobile, Home Refrigeration, and World War II

From 1915 to 1950, automobile development revolutionizes transportation and greatly impacts city and regional planning. As the city of Cincinnati grows and early suburbs expand, home refrigeration units begin to change Americans’ relationship to food and farms. Households keep perishable items longer and are able to consume more fruits and vegetables, often at lower prices.

Post WWII, Suburbanization, and Fast Food

From 1950 to 1969, the U.S. experiences tremendous population growth and change as the interstate highway system supports suburban sprawl. Grocery store chains grow and consolidate, and the modern fast food system emerges alongside the mass production and slaughter of livestock. The 1960s see the counterculture and environmental movements that will challenge societal norms and rebel against mass standardization and socialization. The Ohio, Kentucky, and Indiana Regional Council of Governments (OKI) is formed.

The Reemergence of Local Food

Starting in 1970, when the first Earth Day is celebrated, healthy and local food movements take shape across the U.S. Seed, pesticide, and biotech companies introduce Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs). Farm consolidation accelerates, while there’s a continued growth of new farmers’ markets and CSAs (introduced to the U.S. in 1984). Findlay Market is preserved as catalyst for new development in Over-the-Rhine, and food-based cooperatives and environmental and agricultural nonprofits are established, such as the Imago Earth Center, the Greater Cincinnati Nutrition Council, Sunrock Farm, Homemeadow Song Farm, Greenacres, Turner Farm, and Gorman Heritage Farm. Green Umbrella is founded in 1998, followed by the Enright Ecovillage in 2004 and the Central Ohio River Valley (CORV) Food Guide in 2007.

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