Factoids: How much do we spend on food?

In 2016, households in the middle income quintile spent an average of $6,224 on food, representing 13.1 percent of income, while the lowest income households spent $3,862 on food, representing 32.6 percent of income.

Food-away-from-home’s share of total food expenditures rose to 50.1 percent in 2014, surpassing at-home food sales for the first time.


Factoids: Squash

The English word “squash” derives from “askutasquash” (a green thing eaten raw), a word from the Narragansett language*,  Similar words for squash exist in related languages of the Algonquian family such as Massachusetts.

Squashes generally refer to four species of the genus Cucurbita:

  1. Cucurbit. maxima (Hubbard squash, Buttercup squash, some varieties of prize Pumpkins, such as Big Max),
  2. C. mixta (Crenshaw squash),
  3. C. moschata (Butternut squash), and
  4. C. pepo (most Pumpkins, Acorn squash, Summer squash, Zucchini).

In North America, squash is loosely grouped into summer squash or winter squash. Some varieties of which are also called marrows (mainly in British English). Gourds are from the same family as squashes.

Though considered a vegetable in cooking, botanically speaking, squash is a fruit (being the receptacle for the plant’s seeds). The squash fruit is classified as a pepo by botanists, which is a special type of berry with a thick outer wall or rind formed from hypanthium tissue fused to the exocarp; the fleshy interior is composed of mesocarp and endocarp. The pepo, derived from an inferior ovary, is characteristic of the squash family (Cucurbitaceae).

Archaeological evidence suggests squash may have been first cultivated in Mesoamerica some 8,000 to 10,000 years ago, and may have been independently cultivated elsewhere at a later date. Squash was one of the “Three Sisters” planted by Native Americans. The Three Sisters were the three main native crop plants: maize (corn), beans, and squash. These were usually planted together, with the cornstalk providing support for the climbing beans, and shade for the squash. The squash vines provided ground cover to limit weeds. Weeds can be detrimental to the growing conditions of the squash. The beans provided nitrogen fixing for all three crops.

*Documented by Roger Williams, the founder of Rhode Island, in his 1643 publication A Key Into the Language of America.

Source: Wikipedia

Factoids: Blueberries

Elizabeth White, pioneer of the modern, cultivated blueberry! She selected wild blueberries for flavor, texture, size, resistance to disease and cold, and how quickly each variety ripened. Then, she propagated and cross fertilized various specimens to develop the optimal highbush blueberry and released their first harvest in 1916. http://www.hiddennj.com/2013/02/elizabeth-white-berry-good-for-pinelands.html
Today, blueberries are bred in a similar manner. I talked with a blueberry plant breed for Driscoll’s this week. She was headed to the San Joaquin Valley to do blueberry breeding trial selections for some 10,000 plants. Each plant will be  judged by the same criteria that was used in the early 1900s, as well as plant morphology.
And this is how great food is developed for you!


Tobacco is a crop from the new world, in addition to corn, peppers, tomatoes, eggplant, and chocolate.

In 1545, the first person to take tobacco to Europe from America was Luís Góis, a Portuguese man.

Tobacco was sent to France by Jean Nicot, French ambassador to the Portuguese Court in Lisbon, and the word “nicotine” comes from the ambassador’s name. The French queen at the time, Catherine de Medici, is said to have been strongly addicted to tobacco.

Factoids: George Washington on Ag

1786: George Washington wrote
“Nothing in my opinion would contribute more to the welfare of these States, than the proper management of our Lands; and nothing, in this State [Virginia] particularly, seems to be less understood. The present mode of cropping practiced among us, is destructive to landed property; and must, if persisted in much longer, ultimately ruin the holders of it.
1791:  George Washington wrote to Arthur Young, the author of the  article called “On the Conduct of Experiments in Agriculture“ (1786):
The aim of the farmers in the country… is, not to make the most they can from the land, which is, or has been cheap, but the most of the labour, which is dear, the consequence of which has been, much ground, has been scratched over and none cultivated or improved as it ought to have been: Whereas a farmer in England, where land is dear, and labour cheap, finds it his interest to improve and cultivate highly, that he may reap large crops from a small quantity of ground. That the last is the true, and the first an erroneous policy, I will readily grant; but it requires time to conquer bad habits, and hardly anything short of necessity is able to accomplish it. That necessity is approaching by pretty rapid strides.”

Factoid: Abraham Lincoln and Agriculture

Abraham Lincoln quote:

“Every blade of grass is a study; and to produce two, where there was but one, is both a profit and a pleasure. And not grass alone; but soils, seeds, and seasons – hedges, ditches, and fences, draining, droughts, and irrigation – plowing, hoeing, and harrowing – reaping, mowing, and threshing – saving crops, pests of crops, diseases of crops, and what will prevent or cure them – implements, utensils, and machines, their relative merits and how to improve them – hogs, horses, and cattle – sheep, goats, and poultry – trees, shrubs, fruits, plants, and flowers – the thousand things of which these are specimens – each a world of study within itself.”

He was an advocate for agriculture and signed multiple laws that shaped U.S. Agricultural Policy: 

  • Established the USDA in May 15, 1862.
  • Signed the Homestead Act on May 20, 1862. This transferred nearly 232 million acres of land from the public to private ownership and created over 1 million farms. 
  • He signed The Morrill Land Grant College Act on July 2, 1862. This legislation allowed for donation of public lands to states for colleges of Agriculture and “mechanical arts”.

Factoids: Colloquialisms with a country twist

Where did these phrases originate? 

  • A SHOT OF WHISKEY In the old west a .45 cartridge for a six-gun cost 12 cents, so did a glass of whiskey. If a cowhand was low on cash he would often give the bartender a cartridge in exchange for a drink. This became known as a “shot” of whiskey.
  • BUYING THE FARM  This is synonymous with dying. During WWI, soldiers were given life insurance policies worth $5,000. This was about the price of an average farm so if you died you “bought the farm” for your survivors.
  • PASSING THE BUCK/THE BUCK STOPS HERE  Most men in the early west carried a jack knife made by the Buck knife company. When playing poker it as common to place one of these Buck knives in front of the dealer so that everyone knew who he was. When it was time for a new dealer the deck of cards and the knife were given to the new dealer. If this person didn’t want to deal he would “pass the buck” to the next player. If that player accepted then “the buck stopped there”.’
  • RIFF RAFF The Mississippi River was the main way of traveling from north to south. Riverboats carried passengers and freight but they were expensive so most people used rafts. Everything had the right of way over rafts which were considered cheap. The steering oar on the rafts was called a “riff” and this transposed into riff-raff, meaning low class.
  • COBWEB The Old English word for “spider” was “cob”
  • OVER A BARREL  In the days before CPR a downing victim would be placed face down over a barrel and the barrel would be rolled back and forth in a effort to empty the lungs of water. It was rarely effective. If you are over a barrel you are in deep trouble.
  • BARGE IN  Heavy freight was moved along the Mississippi in large barges pushed by steamboats. These were hard to control and would sometimes swing into piers or other boats. People would say they “barged in”.
  • HOGWASH  Steamboats carried both people and animals. Since pigs smelled so bad they would be washed before being put on board. The mud and other filth that was washed off was considered useless “hog wash”.
  • BARRELS OF OIL  When the first oil wells were drilled they had made no provision for storing the liquid so they used water barrels. That is why, to this day, we speak of barrels of oil rather than gallons.

Source: My Friend, Will, The Bugkiller