Fresh Fruits and Vegetables Delivered in the Mail a Hundred Years Ago

farm produce heading 5 1916

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Caption: Here is a “home hamper.” If you live in New York, Brooklyn, or elsewhere on Long Island, it is delivered to your door for $1.50. The four boxes each hold about four quarts. (Source: Ladies Home Journal – May, 1916).

I can get great locally-grown produce at the farmer’s market, or I could join a community supported agriculture (CSA) group and pick up wonderful local foods at a nearby drop point — but I dream of curated farm-fresh food coming right to my door on a regular basis.  I long for the good old days. A hundred years ago families in the New York City area could get fresh fruits and vegetables from Long Island in the mail.

Here’s some quotes from a 1916 article about it.

The farm-to-family-fresh idea is Edith Loring Fullerton’s, and a very clever idea it is. Mrs. Fullerton believed that a basket of fruits and vegetables, freshly picked, sent straight from the farm would appeal to the city housewife.

Evidently it did, for the “Home Hamper” is a great success.  The hamper itself is an oblong crate twenty-four inches long, fourteen wide and ten deep; it contains six baskets and weights from thirty to thirty-five pounds. In it the housewife finds such staples as potatoes, beans, peas, tomatoes, sweet corn, soup and salad vegetables, and in season strawberries, peaches, cantaloupes, eggplants, etc.

With the parcel post the hamper idea is being rapidly taken up by woman farmers, some of them adding eggs, poultry, butter or flowers to the hamper lists.

The housewife finds that not only does the hamper reduce the cost of living, but the difference between freshly picked vegetables and those picked unripe to ripen in transit is greatly appreciated by her family.

Mrs. Fullerton is one of the vice presidents of the new cooperative organization of woman gardeners — the Women’s National Agricultural and Horticultural  Association, which has for one of its objects to “bring together the producer and consumer.”

Ladies Home Journal (May 1916)

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Caption: Freshly picked, and thoroughly washed and cleaned, carefully bunched and sorted, these vegetables, just right for use, are ready for packing into hampers. The hampers leave the farm at six thirty in the morning on Tuesdays and Fridays, reaching the housewives a few hours later.

I want to think that delivery services are faster and more efficient now than in the early 1900’s but apparently parcel post packages were delivered by the U.S. Postal Service much quicker and more dependably a hundred years ago than now (at least in urban areas). Parcel post began in the U.S. in 1913, and was seen as a way for farmers to get supplies, and for consumers to get farm produce. Trains, horse-drawn wagons, and trucks quickly transported the perishable parcel post hampers into the city from the outlying agricultural areas.

36 thoughts on “Fresh Fruits and Vegetables Delivered in the Mail a Hundred Years Ago

  1. I would have not guessed this! How nice to have a hamper of fresh veggies to be creative. Today I see things like Blue Apron. Oh, well, I am grateful that I can still go to my local store and get fresh veggies and fruit but I am not in an urban area. I always learn from you!

    1. I also was surprised by this. When I go to the store or a farmers market, I try to see which foods look the freshest or most interesting; and then try to come up with recipes to use them – but it would be a lot of fun to get a mystery box full of fruits and vegetable each week.

  2. I would LOVE to have that option. Everything has to be packed up tight now in an enclose box, sealed with tape, then gets scanned and goes to myriad of delivery centers before getting to your house. You would end up nowadays with a bunch of rotting, wilted vegetables. 😦 But that’s really neat the postal system could pull that off back then. 🙂

    1. The mail service must have been amazing back in the day. My dad used to talk about how he could mail an order from his home in central Pennsylvania to the regional Sears warehouse in Philadelphia one day, and get the filled order the next. The train had a mail car, and postal workers sorted the mail while it traveled to and from Philadelphia.

  3. Actually, the postal system can pull it off now. My friend who lived on a remote island off Alaska got her package of fresh vegetables from a CSA in the lower 48 delivered on a regular basis and in good condition. I also sent her boxes of fresh and/or perishable food items. You just need to make sure the post office knows what you are mailing, and that it is properly packaged.

    The CSA option is great, or of course, the farmers’ markets.

    1. Wow, it’s amazing that someone in Alaska can get food from a CSA in the lower 48 in a timely manner. It’s wonderful to know that the post office still can do things like this.

  4. I would love having the Home Hamper. Can you imagine getting ‘affordable’ healthy fresh veggies delivered right at your door?
    Now-a-days the companies that make deliveries of fruits and veggies are expensive and not affordable to use on a daily basis for a lot of us.
    I’m thankful, I’m able to enjoy growing my own. Also, I’m thankful for your blog where you share pleasant thoughts and some happier ways-of-life from a hundred years ago.

    1. It would be interesting to know whether consumers a hundred years ago considered the baskets affordable or expensive. 🙂 Thanks for the kind words. I have a lot of fun doing this blog, and it’s always wonderful to hear when someone enjoys it.

      1. Yes, well…….there is that. I was amazed to hear that sacks of oysters were delivered to my grandmother’s place in the country. This was over 70 years ago.

        1. Wow, that’s amazing. I think that sometimes we don’t fully appreciate how good the transportation system was in the first half of the 20th century.

  5. Once again, I learned something new from your blog! I had no idea that people could get fresh produce delivered to their door one hundred years ago. It’s a great idea, and I wish it was that easy now.

  6. This reminds me how we used to get apples from the orchard in wooden baskets. Now too much is enclosed in plastic.

  7. It is a good idea but I like going to our local farmer’s market, small but is a place to meet up with friends and get caught up on our lives. My mom though would tell me of the farmers coming to town (in Frankfurt Germany) calling out what they were selling, peas, potatoes and cabbage ( Erbsen, Kartoffeln und Kohl) or apples, pears and berries. ( Äpfel, Birnen und Beerenetc)….and the horse drawn milk wagons. Her grandparents had a farm so she literally got to pick what they received!!

    1. Your description of your mother’s story is wonderful. I can picture farmers calling out Erbsen, Kartoffeln und Kohl as people came out to buy the produce. 🙂 Your comment about your local farmer’s market reminds me of how my parents used to talk about selling things at the Market House in Williamsport.

      1. Yes, that is before my time, but many of my friends remember taking the “long” trip into town. Now it is all banks and hotels… 😦

  8. This is new to me, too. I’d heard of the meat trucks and ice trucks going door to door, but not fruit deliveries. Interesting how the caption mentions: ‘thoroughly washed and cleaned.’ I didn’t think they kept to those kind of standards back then and I’m curious what they used–detergent?

    1. County agents through the Extension Service was very involved in helping farmers improve their practices in the early 20th century. The Extension service published a huge number of pamphlets on a wide range of agricultural topics back then. It would be interesting to try to find one on preparing fruits and vegetables for sale to see what cleaning process was recommended.

    1. I also was really surprised when I saw this in the old magazine. Sometimes things from a hundred years ago seem quaint and old fashioned – other times they seem amazingly modern. 🙂

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