How Food Gets to Us

Have you ever been to the supermarket right before a big storm? Chances are, people have raided the shelves. No more milk, no more bread. We tend to take food for granted until there isn’t any. But, where does our food come from and how does it get to us?


Fun Facts

  • During the 1800s and early 1900s, agriculture was the main economy in the U.S. Over 70 percent of people worked in agriculture. Today, only 2 percent work in agriculture. Yet because farming practices are so much more efficient, farms grow much more food than they did 100 years ago.
  • Different parts of the country produce different types of food. Fruit, vegetables, and nuts tend to come from California or the Pacific Northwest. Florida produces vegetables like tomatoes, watermelon, and corn.
  • Cows can be found in almost every state, but Texas, North Carolina, and Wisconsin are big ranching states.
  • Crops are often harvested by hired field hands. Many of these field hands migrate from place to place, helping with the harvest.
  • Corn is the number one crop grown in the U.S., followed by soybeans. Most of the corn grown isn’t consumed as fresh corn. Instead, it’s grown for corn syrup, cereals, or crackers. Some corn is grown to feed livestock or even to fuel your car.
  • Once the crops are harvested, they are sent to a processing plant. For example, in southern Idaho, potatoes go to Simplot, a company that turns raw potatoes into things like frozen French fries and tator tots. The potatoes are packaged and shipped in refrigerated trucks to stores around the country. A similar process happens with other foods.
  • Cattle from ranches or feedlots go to processing plants where the meat is cleaned, inspected, and packaged before it is shipped to grocery stores or restaurants.
  • Milk from dairies must be processed quickly. It is pasteurized—heated to kill bacteria—and then chilled in large metal tanks before being bottled and shipped. Eggs from poultry farms are cleaned and sorted before they’re packaged. Some don’t make the grade and are used in egg products.
  • Some factories have fairly simple processes, while others are more complicated. Making frozen French fries, for example, is much simpler than making canned soup.
  • There are fewer small family farms today than there used to be and more large commercial farms. Most family farmers don’t make a living off farming, but must do something else to make ends meet. Four percent of the farms in the U.S. grow 66 percent of the crops.
  • In some parts of the country, the entire community participates in harvest time. In southern Idaho, schools close so children can help in the potato harvest. In Maine, schools close for blueberry harvest.


Questions and Answers

Question: Are supermarkets the only place to get food?

Answer: No. Some farms allow people to buy food directly from the farm or even pick their own produce. You can also get fresh, locally grown produce from farmers markets or through a CSA.

Learn More

Watch a tomato harvest in Florida.