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November 21st, 2011

Thankful for the Harvest

nancy-80x80Of the many things I have to be grateful for this Thanksgiving, never having to worry about being hungry is a big one. Oh, I don’t mean hungry as in, “it’s been 5 hours since breakfast and my stomach is growling”; I mean hungry as in “it’s been 5 days since I’ve had anything but a handful of rice to last the day.”

Working at Organic Gardening has some unique perks, and one is the plentiful supply of fresh produce from our test garden during the growing season. On those days when I volunteer to help our test garden manager, Doug Hall, with the weeding and harvesting, the vegetables always taste even sweeter. Hard work always sharpens the appetite. Now that the garden is heading into its dormant season, I miss checking out the “harvest table” every Wednesday to see what Doug has grown that week.

I have a lot of 100-year-old Thanksgiving greeting postcards in my collection, and many of them feature scenes of the harvest. People were just as grateful for their daily bread a century ago. Or even 4 centuries ago—the first Thanksgiving, celebrated jointly by the Pilgrims and the Wampanoag people (without whose agricultural advice they would have starved), was a celebration of the harvest. Often my old postcards feature somewhat fantasized turn-of-the-century interpretations of what Pilgrims and Indians would have looked like.

Here’s a harvest of Thanksgiving postcards for you to enjoy. Hope everyone has a happy, healthy Thanksgiving!

This Pilgrim-y lass has a harvest of corn. She was drawn by artist May L. Farini in 1910.

This Pilgrim-y lass has a harvest of corn. She was drawn by artist May L. Farini in 1910.

A lovely sunbonnet lady with a sheaf of wheat, painted by the artist Samuel L. Schmucker in 1911.

A lovely sunbonnet lady with a sheaf of wheat, painted by the artist Samuel Loren Schmucker about 1911.

A pilgrim-y woman in prayerful pose in the pumpkin patch, after the corn harvest. Also by Schmucker.

A pilgrim-y woman in prayerful pose in the pumpkin patch, after the corn harvest. Also by Schmucker, 1911.

A Pilgrim-y couple saying thanks for their crop of corn, fruits, and vegetables.

A Pilgrim-y couple saying thanks for their crop of corn, fruits, and vegetables.

A country couple harvest apples on this card printed in Germany about 1908.

A German farm couple harvests apples on this card from about 1908.

An American boy produces his own apple crop, circa 1910.

An American boy produces his own apple crop, circa 1910.

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July 25th, 2011

More Fun with Corn

Okay, I promise this is the last corn-related posting I’ll do this year. But there’s something about corn that makes people want to photograph it. I found two more corny postcards in my collection:

A family poses in front of their corn shock. They're identified as May, Florence, Charles, and Jay.

A family poses in front of one of their corn shocks. They're identified as May, Florence, Charles, and Jay.

Another family with their fall harvest of corn and apples. This one is postmarked 1907.

Another family with their fall harvest of corn and apples. This one is postmarked 1907.

Husking corn, circa 1880. Photographed on a farm near the one where J.I. Rodale started the original Organic Gardening test garden.

Husking corn, circa 1880. Photographed on a farm near the one where J.I. Rodale started the original Organic Gardening test garden.

Ephemera sometimes also featured corn:

This young lady, from a fertilizer trade card circa 1880, really wears her husks well. And how about that tassel-colored hair?

This young lady, from a fertilizer trade card circa 1880, really wears her husks well. And how about that tassel-colored hair?

Bonus points for the reader who can identify a source for 'Crosby's Early' sweet corn, a variety that originated in New England. Judging from its typography, this seed packet is from about 1870.

Bonus points for the reader who can identify a modern source for seeds of ‘Crosby’s Early’ sweet corn, a variety that originated in New England. Judging from its typography, this seed packet, from James Vick, dates to about 1870.

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July 18th, 2011

Colossal Kernels

nancy-80x80Gardeners love to claim bragging rights to the biggest, earliest, tastiest veggies. But sometimes they can resort to…well, exaggerating a bit.

One man, William Harrison “Dad” Martin, made a name for himself a century ago by capitalizing on Midwestern farmers’ pride in the abundance of their crops. He produced a series of postcards that used composite negatives—the early-20th-century equivalent of Photoshop—to insert absurdly large veggies into everyday farming photos. Such postcards, called “exaggeration” or “tall-tale” postcards, are highly collectible today.

In keeping with my corn theme this month, here are three of “Dad” Martin’s fantasy images that picture enormous cobs:

Now, that's bringing home the bacon!

Now, that's bringing home the bacon!

Someone needs to notify the SPCA. This is animal cruelty!

Someone needs to notify the SPCA. This is animal cruelty!

Never mind the corn; I want a pair of those striped dungarees!

Never mind the corn; I want a pair of those striped dungarees!

Hope you all are having a very corny July!

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July 4th, 2011

A Celebration of Corn

nancy-80x80Crazy for corn? Author Craig Summers Black gives Organic Gardening readers a corn primer in our August/September issue (plus recipes from chef George Formaro of Centro restaurant in Des Moines), and his description of Iowa’s Adel Corn Festival will appear on this site soon.

I want to share some vintage postcards of another Midwest institution: the Corn Palace in Mitchell, South Dakota. This “cathedral of corn” has had three incarnations: The first was built in 1892, when Mitchell had a population of only 3,000; the second, built in 1905, would soon prove too small; so a third (the current structure) was completed in 1921. Having survived a major fire in 1979, it will celebrate its centenary in 10 years.

The building never looks the same from year to year, as native grasses and thousands of ears of corn are applied inside and out to create elaborate mosaics and designs related to that year’s theme. The theme for 2012, which workers began applying to the walls in June, is “Saluting Youth Activities.”

In 1914, the theme was “Dutch Scenes,” as you can see from my first example:

CornPalace1914

Second Corn Palace building in 1914

The 1929 decorations depicted the history of the state in 10-year intervals to celebrate Mitchell’s 50th anniversary:

Current Corn Palace building in 1929

Current Corn Palace building in 1929

Shortly after this photo was taken, minarets and towers were added to recall some of the details of the earlier Corn Palace buildings.

Today, besides hosting a half-million tourists every year, the Corn Palace building serves as a venue for entertainers, local basketball games, and civic activities. And a testimony to the cultural significance of corn in American life.

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