My wife and I recently visited our son in Utah, and one of our stops along the way was at the Utah State Railroad Museum in Ogden.
With a modest $5 admission, the museum offered a look back to the days of the building of the transcontinental railroad. The golden spike that marked the completion of the railroad was driven on May 10, 1869 in Promontory, Utah, about 50 miles to the northwest of Odgen.
The completion of the railroad changed the U.S., and U.S. agriculture, profoundly.
Like the moon landing a 100 years later, the transcontinental railroad transfixed the American people.
From an article by Union Pacific called “The Race to Promontory: The Transcontinental Railroad and the American West,” a description of the moment and its aftermath:
Forty-six months after they began construction, the two railroads came together and officially “united” the United States. Western Union offered coverage direct from the scene – the first major news event carried “live” from coast-to-coast.
Telegraph wires were attached to one of the ceremonial spikes and as it was gently tapped with a silver maul, the “strokes” were heard across the Country. Whistles were blown in San Francisco, the Liberty Bell was rung in Philadelphia, and a ball was held in Washington, D.C.
The transcontinental had opened the heart of the continent, and, within days of its completion, the country was transformed. Travel from New York to San Francisco was reduced from six months to 10 days, and at ten percent of the cost. This new era witnessed the development of settlements for millions of Americans and an incredible surge in industrial growth. Agricultural products were transported east from California, changing how Americans filled their dinner tables. The railroad led to the creation of Standard Time, to allow trains to move safely along a single track. Communication flowed quickly and reliably across the country on mail cars and by telegraph lines along the track. The railroad also connected the United States to the world, carrying products from Asia and Europe – the first freight shipment across the new railroad included casks of tea from Japan – and building new markets for both imported and exported goods.
TK: The world got smaller when the transcontinental railroad was completed. Distances shrank and going to market was more than just selling to the local townsfolk. The later task of building the great interstate highway system in the 1950s further sped the pace of food marketing and created our current produce supply chain.
While all of those changes won’t be walked back, the recent growth in the demand for local food signals a desire by consumers to be connected to their community. I asked members of the Fresh Produce Industry Discussion Group about the staying power of local food with this question:
What do you think is the number one reason behind the consumer appeal of local produce? Will consumer preference for local increase or decrease over the next five years? How should the supply chain respond?