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Grant Wood/Friends of American Art Collection via Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

7 Fresh Facts About the Farms That Grow Your Food

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Grant Wood/Friends of American Art Collection via Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

If you live in a city or the suburbs, it can be easy to forget that agriculture is a big part of America’s economy and landscape. That landscape has changed radically over the past 100 years—even if the farmers haven’t. Here are seven things you might not know about U.S. farms.

1. THEY TAKE UP A LOT OF SPACE.

At nearly 3.8 million square miles, America is huge—and so is American agriculture. As of 2012, farmland occupied more than 40 percent of U.S. soil [PDF]. Most of that land is concentrated in the Midwest, but there are big pockets in California and the Southeast.

2. A LOT OF THAT SPACE IS DEDICATED TO JUST THREE CROPS.

Image Credit: Nyttend via Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Have you ever wondered why wheat, corn syrup, and soy are in practically every processed food these days? In an effort to keep American farms afloat during the Great Depression, the government began subsidizing certain crops—most notably wheat [PDF], corn [PDF], and soybeans [PDF]. Today, those crops are big business, bringing in more than $100 billion each year and accounting for 31 percent of total agricultural profit.

3. SMALL FARMS ARE A BIG DEAL.

Speaking last week at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, USDA senior scientist Catherine Woteki noted that family farms make up an astonishing 99 percent of American farms. But as you’d expect, most of those are small farms, which means that nearly all of our country’s farms are squished into only 46 percent of our farmland.

4. MOST FARMERS REALLY ARE OLD MEN.

Dorothea Lange/USDA, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

When you imagine a farmer, what do you see? If you’re picturing an older white man, you’re mostly correct. In 2012 (the last agricultural census), only 14 percent [PDF] of American farm operators were women, 3 percent [PDF] were Hispanic, 1.4 percent [PDF] were black, 1.7 percent were Native American [PDF], and less than 1 percent were Asian [PDF]. The average age is 57, and Woteki said a full third of farmers are over the age of 65.

5. WE NEED BEES AND OTHER BUGS.

Plants won’t produce crops without pollination, and we rely on bugs to do a lot of that work for us. Bees alone pollinate more than 75 percent [PDF] of the fruits, nuts, and vegetables grown in the U.S., but they’re not alone: A recent study found that flies, beetles, butterflies, and wasps are doing plenty of pollinating themselves.

6. MANY OF CHINA’S AGRICULTURAL PRODUCTS WERE MADE IN AMERICA.

Agricultural exports have always been a big source of revenue for the U.S. In 2014 alone, America sold $24.6 billion worth of agricultural products to China—mostly wheat, soybeans, and corn [PDF]. This is the reverse of most other products—think about how many things you buy that were made in China.

7. FARMERS MARKETS ARE A REGIONAL THING.

Image Credit: Daderot via Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Readers on either U.S. coast may be surprised to learn that farmers markets and community-supported agriculture programs (CSAs) aren’t happening everywhere. In 2012, only 6.9 percent [PDF] of American farms sold their wares directly to consumers, and most of those were concentrated in California and the Northeast. In fact, three states—California, New York, and Pennsylvania—accounted for nearly a third of all direct-to-consumer farm sales.

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Food
25 Cupcake Bakeries You've Got to Try
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Courtesy Maxie B's

While it's difficult to improve upon perfection, bakers are constantly putting new twists on cupcakes. These bakeries showcase the latest trends and the classic style we all know and love.

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Something Something Soup Something
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This Game About Soup Highlights How Tricky Language Is
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Something Something Soup Something

Soup, defined by Merriam-Webster as "a liquid food especially with a meat, fish, or vegetable stock as a base and often containing pieces of solid food," is the ultimate simple comfort food. But if you look closer at the definition, you'll notice it's surprisingly vague. Is ramen soup? What about gumbo? Is a soy vanilla latte actually a type of three-bean soup? The subjectivity of language makes this simple food category a lot more complicated than it seems.

That’s the inspiration behind Something Something Soup Something, a new video game that has players label dishes as either soup or not soup. According to Waypoint, Italian philosopher, architect, and game designer Stefano Gualeni created the game after traveling the world asking people what constitutes soup. After interviewing candidates of 23 different nationalities, he concluded that the definition of soup "depends on the region, historical period, and the person with whom you're speaking."

Gualeni took this real-life confusion and applied it to a sci-fi setting. In Something Something Soup Something, you play as a low-wage extra-terrestrial worker in the year 2078 preparing meals for human clientele. Your job is to determine which dishes pass as "soup" and can be served to the hungry guests while avoiding any items that may end up poisoning them. Options might include "rocks with celery and batteries in a cup served with chopsticks" or a "foamy liquid with a candy cane and a cooked egg served in a bowl with a fork."

The five-minute game is meant to be tongue-in-cheek, but Gualeni also hopes to get people thinking about real philosophical questions. According to its description page, the game is meant to reveal "that even a familiar, ordinary concept like 'soup' is vague, shifting, and impossible to define exhaustively."

You can try out Something Something Soup Something for free on your browser.

[h/t Waypoint]

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