Earlier this month, the United States Postal Service unveiled their newest farmers market-themed stamps. Their purpose is to promote awareness and appreciation of the over 8,000 farmers markets sprinkled throughout the nation. For someone who loves a good food illustration, it’s hard to beat the thought of sticking one of these four stamps onto your next letter (or, more likely, outgoing bill). As Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe said at the stamp’s unveiling, “For years the Postal Service has celebrated — through the power of stamps — America’s agricultural abundance. Today, we’re celebrating farmers markets, which are a popular and communal pastime for many Americans.”
Farmers markets may be the foodiest stamp subject the USPS has unveiled, but it’s not the first time the post office has paid homage to agriculture. Plants – ranging from flowers to holiday evergreens – have been a popular subject for modern stamps. They’re nice to look at and generally uncontroversial. However, the USPS has done more to promote agriculture than remind us that plants are good. After going through every stamp from 1970 to 2014, here are 7 of the other best homages to food and farm to ever grace an envelope.
1985 – Rural Electrification Administration
Released on the 50th anniversary of the Rural Electrification Administration, the stamp commemorates an organization that was started in 1935 when only one farm in ten had electricity.
1987 – Tractor 1920s
Though this stamp was officially part of a USPS transportation series highlighting important vehicles from tricycles to trucks, in the 1920s, a tractor was an important agricultural tool. Only invented in the late 1800s, farm tractors were revolutionary in pulling farming toward the industrial age.
1998 – Diner
This diner stamp from the late 1990s is the only stamp to honor an eat-in food establishment. From the diner’s beginnings as an 1892 horse-drawn wagon to the pre-fabricated buildings or trailers part of today’s americana, they opened early and closed late to serve the average working man.
2003 – Cesar Chavez
Commemorating United Farm Workers of America founder Cesar Chavez, this stamp was issued on the 10th anniversary of his death. Under his leadership, the UFW managed to pass the 1975 California Agricultural Labor Relations Act, still the only legislation that protects farm workers’ right to unionize. This is possibly the only stamp to memorialize the farm and field workers of the United States.
2006 – Crops of the Americas
Though there are numerous stamps of depicting peaches, pears, apples, and oranges, this stamp booklet is interesting for its specific attention to native crops of the American continent. Corn, chili peppers, beans, squashes, and sunflowers all pre-date the arrival of Europeans to the New World. Many of them are still dietary staples today.
2007 – Pollination
This set of four stamps was created to celebrate the first year of June’s National Pollinator Week. Though bees are often what we talk about when we talk about agricultural pollinators, birds, bats, and butterflies also play an important role in keeping our national plants alive and well.
2012 – Earthscapes
The only stamp on this list that wasn’t made in honor of food or agriculture, it’s still a worthy contender. Of the 15 stamps in the Earthscapes booklet, only 5 are clearly related to food and farm. However, among the views of United States life and industry you can find images of a cranberry harvest, cherry orchard, salt evaporation ponds, log rafts on their way to a sawmill, as well as a satellite view of a center-pivot irrigation system.
-Tove K. Danovich