The Midwest region of the United States is a captivating tapestry of sprawling fields, rolling pastures, and a storied agricultural heritage. The region stretches across 12 states, including Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, Ohio, South Dakota, and Wisconsin. Keep reading to get to know the Heartland, exploring the wide range of products and culinary traditions that define this region.
The Midwest is home to some of the most fertile farmland in the world, with over 127 million acres of land dedicated to agriculture. The fertile soil and favorable climate make the Midwest an ideal location for farming, and the region’s agricultural industry is a vital part of the local economy. The introduction of steel plows in the mid-19th century facilitated the cultivation of these expansive prairies, leading to a surge in wheat and corn production. The Homestead Act of 1862 further incentivized settlers to migrate westward, transforming the region into a key agricultural hub. The adoption of mechanized farming practices and hybrid seed varieties in the 20th century significantly increased yields, making the Midwest a cornerstone of global grain markets. Today, the region remains vital to the U.S. and global food supply, producing substantial portions of corn, soybeans, wheat, and livestock. Its rich history and continued agricultural prowess underscore its enduring significance in feeding the nation and the world.
“There are over 127 million acres of agricultural land in the Midwest and in addition to 75% of that area in corn and soybeans, the other 25% is used to produce alfalfa, apples, asparagus, green beans, blueberries, cabbage, carrots, sweet and tart cherries, cranberries, cucumbers, grapes, oats, onions, peaches, plums, peas, bell peppers, potatoes, pumpkins, raspberries, strawberries, sweet corn, tobacco, tomatoes, watermelon, and wheat.” – U.S. Department of Agriculture
From Cornfields to Cherry Orchards
The Midwest region of the United States is often referred to as both “America’s Breadbasket” and the “Corn Belt.” This dual moniker stems from the region’s prominent role in producing substantial quantities of wheat for bread and corn for various uses. Serving as the cornerstone of Midwest agriculture, corn finds its way into a plethora of products, from local foods to nourishing feed for livestock and even ethanol.
Nebraska, often referred to as the Cornhusker State, grows a large amount of this golden staple. As late summer turns to autumn, the flavors of Nebraska’s fields find their way to the table in dishes that pay homage to this versatile grain. From the comforting warmth of corn chowder to the rustic charm of cornbread, and the sweet joy of crunchy popcorn, corn takes center stage. This isn’t a recent phenomenon – early pioneers once leaned on corn and cornmeal, integrating them into every part of their meals.
Soybeans, another integral crop, contribute to an array of useful goods, including soybean oil, tofu, and soy milk but are also used as a protein-rich addition to soups or even as a base for desserts like puddings and pies.
From juicy apples to plump blueberries, the Midwest produces a bounty of fruits. Apples, integral to the region’s cuisine, find their way into sweet apple fritters and savory dishes like pork chops with applesauce. July marks the start of the Montmorency tart cherry season, as small family farms in North America harvest the ripe, red cherries. Generations-old family farms produce 94 percent of Montmorency tart cherries consumed in the United States.
As the “Cherry Capital of the World,” the state of Michigan is responsible for growing two-thirds of all U.S. Montmorency tart cherries.
A true Midwest delight, the Michigan Cherry Pie, crafted from these tart cherries, perfectly encapsulates the region’s harvest, balancing sweetness and tanginess in a single, timeless dessert.
“The Midwest is one of the world’s leading food-producing areas. It’s home to hundreds of companies that provide consumers around the globe with high quality processed food and agricultural products. Midwestern farmers harvest a wide variety of products including grain, oilseeds, livestock, dairy, beans, fruits, and vegetables.” – Food Export Midwest USA
Midwest’s Farmers: Keeping Tradition Alive
From conventional methods to organic and sustainable farming, the Midwest’s farmers embrace diverse approaches that ensure both bountiful harvests and the preservation of the environment. Sustainable farming is a newer method that focuses on preserving the environment and using resources efficiently. Precision Agriculture is increasingly practiced. Farmers using precision agriculture use a variety of tools and technologies which allow them to observe, measure, and respond to within-field variability for crop management. This allows them to make resource management decisions on-site and in real time.
If you want to learn even more about the Midwest’s agricultural heritage, you can watch the following YouTube video that showcases the hard work and dedication of Midwestern farmers, and highlights the importance of agriculture in the region: A Tribute to Farmers in the U.S. Midwest.
The Midwest’s agricultural heritage isn’t just a local treasure; it’s a vital economic engine. Generating more than $200 billion in economic activity and supporting more than one million jobs, the Heartland’s agricultural impact extends far beyond its borders. Non-profit organizations like Food Export Midwest and Food Export-Northeast play a pivotal role in promoting and supporting the region’s distinctive flavors on a global scale.
From the farm fields to your plate, the Midwest’s farming traditions shine through, sharing a tale of effort, commitment, and a deep love for the land. So whether you’re delighting in a juicy steak, savoring the creamy goodness of Midwest cheese, or treating yourself to a homemade cherry pie, you’re experiencing more than just food—you’re savoring the true spirit of the Heartland.