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NAL-GC: Quarterly Review of NAL's General Collection

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.

Gardening is essentially practical. There is nothing better fitted for the healthful development of children. It affords opportunity for spontaneous activity in the open air, and possibilities for acquiring a fund of interesting and related information; it engenders habits of thrift and economy; develops individual responsibility, and respect for the rights of others; requires regularity, punctuality, and constancy of purpose.

Miller, Louise Klein (1904). Children's Gardens for School and Home: A Manual of Cooperative Gardening. New York: D. Appleton and Company, p. 5

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, the USDA's People's Garden, and First Lady Michelle Obama's Let's Move! Initiative.

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.

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.

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.

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.

After being transferred among several different agencies, the program officially ended in 1937.

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.

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.

The most important member [of the wild bean species group] is P. lunatus, the moon-shaped or the lima bean. Its name does come from the Peruvian capital of Lima, even though perversely it is pronounced 'lime-uh' in English. It is among the largest of beans and for those who were subjected to them in the form of canned limas, the memory of their pasty texture, bitter metallic aftertaste and lurid green color can only evoke the gag reflex. This is a pity, for when fresh or even dried they are among the most pleasant and affable of beans, hulking in proportions, gentle and sweet.

Albala, K. (2007). Beans: A History. New York: Berg, p. 191

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.

There should be a fireless cooker in every kitchen in the land, because it does away with much of the drudgery which three meals a day three hundred and sixty-five days a year ordinarily entail. It is absolutely reliable. Think what it is to cook without having to stay in the kitchen to watch the food or to feed the fire. Food in a fireless cooker never burns nor dries up — it is sure to be done on time. A woman soon learns how much time the fireless cooker requires to cook given food. A fireless cooker is a faithful friend.

Frayser, Mary E. (1914). Fireless Cooking. Bulletin of the Winthrop Normal & Industrial College of South Carolina, Volume VII, Number 4, Part 2, p. 1. Available at:

While expediency is a factor often associated with a specific class of food (“convenience foods”) it has also been a long-standing consideration in all aspects of home food preparation, including kitchen design and actual cooking methods. 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.