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CHAPTER 2 Food from Scratch for the Zenith of the Unsalted Seas Creating a Local Food System in EarlyTwentieth -Century Duluth, Minnesota randel d. hanson How do you create a locally harvested food system for a city of one hundred thousand? This question is being asked in many cities and regions across the United States. It was also an urgent local question a century ago. Indeed, across the United States a century ago, public and private concerns were scrambling to get a handle on the haphazard process by which nature was transformed into edible human culture within rapidly urbanizing America. This was a chaotic, wasteful, and powerfully transformative period, with rural populations shifting into cities as the primary engine for economic activities shifted from agricultural to industrial (Tangires 2003; Cronon 1991; Danbom 1979). The rapid growth of industrial cities forced an emerging municipal responsibility for the various inputs and outputs of this emergent urban life (Melosi 2008; Tarr 1984). Public and private city planners in the late nineteenth 12 introduction and historic al antecedents century began to reflect on and intervene in this laissez-faire urbanization, including how to procure ample food of adequate quality and reasonable cost to citizens (Morales 2000; Vitiello and Brinkley 2013). As was the case in many communities (see, for example, Jayson Otto’s discussions of these issues as they related to Grand Rapids, Michigan, in the following chapter), it became apparent that leaving the issue of food to “the market” was wholly inadequate to meet the needs of the emergent society from any number of perspectives. Progressive-era politicians and citizens began to collaborate in planning for the needs of cities and their inhabitants, creating solutions as they were then defined. These histories of civic engagement with our food system by city governments, business organizations, and citizen groups represent a fascinating window into our past just as they help us think about our challenges and barriers for creating more desirable food systems within contemporary society. While there were general issues that characterized the food challenges of early-twentieth-century industrial cities, many communities faced unique problems. The challenges faced by Duluth fell primarily into the latter category . Indeed, early-twentieth-century Duluth found itself in a food systems quandary. Situated on the western tip of Lake Superior amid vast, thick northern forests, the city was growing rapidly with the immense wealth garnered from exploiting the region’s then-abundant natural capital. Timber from surrounding forests was being clear-cut and hacked into lumber to build the cities southward; the very rich and easily accessible iron ore of the Range was being gouged out and railroaded to Lake Superior docks in Duluth and elsewhere, filling ships and bank accounts; and grain from the newly plowed midwestern prairies and plains was being brought to port for shipping eastward , leveraging the ship canal and ever-improving harbor facilities for this zenith point in North America for oceangoing vessels. New steel plants were being built, and countless spin-off and allied manufacturing, supply, and production companies were proliferating in an urban-industrial frenzy. Nearly tripling in population across two decades, Duluth experienced a phenomenal rate of population growth that was greater than that of New York or Chicago in 1910, and local boosters fantasized that Duluth would become the North American hub as infrastructure developed (Van Brunt 1921). As a result of this combination of abundant raw material, labor, and natural amenities, Food from Scratch for the Zenith of the Unsalted Seas 13 Duluth hosted more millionaires per capita at this point than any other city in the United States. These were heady times in Duluth, and the city fathers were indeed filling their plates. Although the city was rapidly growing, more than eighty thousand Duluthians lived for the most part on the narrow 24-mile strip of land hugging the western Lake Superior shore. The surrounding region was very sparsely populated save for the booming and busting mining and timber towns spread across the hinterlands. Eugene Van Cleef, a geographer at Duluth State Normal School (which would become the University of Minnesota–Duluth), worried in an article published in the Bulletin of the American Geographical Society in 1912 that the “permanence” of Duluth was threatened by the lack of an agrarian base, warning that “mineral resources alone do not invite a large population; they must be accompanied by food to support the people who market them” (Van Cleef 1912). More to the point, business leaders of Duluth...


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