Archive for the ‘Beets’ tag
Meandering through the farmer’s market on a lazy Saturday morning this past week, I stumbled upon a rare and always exciting find: peaches. Early in the summer they are difficult to find, so by August I had almost forgotten about them. But to see something again that you know is so good-in this case juicy and perfectly ripe peaches- you begin to wonder how you ever lived without it. I bought a ton of them, exclaiming their greatness to everyone around me as I paid, and continued on my way with a delightful snack in hand. As I continued to look around, I noticed many foods that I haven’t seen at the markets lately. The new abundance of squash, beets, and other new produce could only mean one thing- the harvest season has begun.
To many of us, autumn means school or breaking out our winter jackets, but there is a long tradition of harvest all around the world that we might not often think about. For example, in ancient Israel special offerings were made at Temples three times a year: first when seeds were planted, then when farmers reaped the first crops, and finally when the harvest was in full swing. Who knew that holidays such as Passover had some association with the harvest season? And while it seems logical to think of the sun when we think of crops (the sun does help produce grow, after all), long standing Chinese traditions rejoice in the harvest moon instead. Harvest moon celebrations occur in mid-August, when the moon is said to be at its brightest, for it is s symbol of abundance. There are so many different ways to think about the harvest season. How do we celebrate harvest in our own community, here in Fort Collins?
We are certainly fortunate in this city, where fresh produce is farmed nearby and delicious peaches are available as soon as they are picked. But the idea of harvest seems to go way beyond food. A great example of this is a Fort Collins based company called the Northern Colorado Food Incubator. The name suggests something very technical, and also very food-centered. However, browsing their website, I surprised at all the Food Incubator does for our community. They are dedicated to a “Living Economy,” which means that they “support independent community- and land-based businesses and advocate for a whole, resilient community and bio-region.” This mission statement says little about farmers specifically, but rather emphasizes encouraging independent and entrepreneurial local endeavors. I was also excited to see how much of their website was dedicated to local events and community building projects. I found out about that Lyric Cinema Cafe, a local independent movie theatre, is showing a series of films that highlight food and sustainability, and that author and food activist Gary Nabhan will be giving a free lecture at the Lincoln Center next week. In supporting local food-bases businesses, the Northern Colorado Food Incubator helps boost the Fort Collins economy, while at the same time engaging the public in fun and interesting ways. What first appeared to be a food-only business is actually affecting the entire community.
The Northern Colorado Food Incubator shows us what an impact the harvest has on our lives here in Fort Collins. When you think about it, this is true for all cultures as well. The offerings at harvest time, or the celebration of the wondrous moon, are all activities that bring people together.
So as the harvest season comes to our city, think about how our community celebrates and what that celebration really means to you. At Beet Street, we want to help commemorate not just the harvest but its effects on Fort Collins. Beginning September 25th, Beet Street is bringing Homegrown Fort Collins to our community. Homegrown Fort Collins celebrates the harvest season and its contribution to community and local culture. Beet Street will be featuring events ranging from Downtown Tasting Tours, to VIP chef’s tours of the local farmers’ markets, to cooking competitions and demos (all using local produce). Bringing people together is a cornerstone of the Fort Collins lifestyle. Enjoying good food with friends and family while engaging in the unique elements of our community is one of the things that make living in northern Colorado so special.
Driving out on Buckingham Street over the weekend, I was surprised to find dozens of prairie dogs frolicking and sunning themselves along parts of the road that used to be beet fields. Their activities got me thinking about Fort Collins’ sugar beet fields and what it must have been like to work in one. If you visit the Museo de las Tres Colonias in Fort Collins, you can judge the size and weight of an average sugar beet and imagine how much effort it would take to get it out of the ground with its extensive root system holding on! Generations of Fort Collins residents carried out the back-breaking work of the beet fields, from early German-Russians who immigrated to the United States to “African-American”, Japanese, and later Mexican or Mexican American families, who all hoped to realize the same dreams.
If you want to read more about how beets are connected to history in Fort Collins, the Fort Collins Local History Archive website is a great place to start. As I have just said a lot of the information here is from the Fort Collins Local History Archive website. Here’s some of the story which starts a long way away from Colorado. R. Margarat, a German chemist discovered that there was sugar in beet juice in 1747 and around the same time in Italy, people figured out how to refine sugar. This led to the early development of the beet sugar industry, which by World War I, had spread across Europe and made sugar affordable for more and more people. As the Fort Collins Local History Archive website states, the first imported beet seed from France arrived in the United States in 1836, and between 1852 and 1879, thirteen factories were erected across the United States. However, all but one of the factories failed since the necessary heavy machinery was expensive and had to be imported from Europe. There were also not enough people in the US with the theoretical and practical knowledge necessary to grow and process sugar beets. American farmers were unfamiliar with how to grow beets and the whole process required intensive hand labor.
The Fort Collins Local History website talks about how in 1866, an editorial published in the Rocky Mountain News promoted the idea of growing sugar beets in Colorado—individuals experimented with irrigation to compensate for the limited annual rainfall in towns like Littleton. There are reports of beets being grown in Fort Collins around 1870, where they were grown as animal feed since there was no factory to process them. Then, in the 1880s, Colorado Agriculture College in Fort Collins experimented with sugar beet agriculture on farms in the area, and found that the climatic and soil conditions, as well as the irrigation networks in the South Platte River Valley were excellent for high yields—beets with approximately 15% sugar. That research led to more support and interest along with the claim that, “the soil of Colorado has no superior in the world for producing this beet.” The beet sugar industry continued to expand in Fort Collins and the region. This is from the Fort Collins Local History website.
More research, practice, demand, political events and hard work led to the continued development of the beet sugar industry. The Dingley Tariff of 1897 placed a duty on refined sugar in the US and the domestic demand for sweetener continued to grow, fueled even more by the Spanish American War in 1899. By 1903, new factories were being built in 16 states across the United States according to the Fort Collins Local History website.
Between 1901 and 1906, factories were built in Loveland, Eaton, Greeley, Windsor, Sterling, Fort Morgan and Brush. The first beet sugar manufacturing plant in Colorado was owned by the Colorado Sugar Manufacturing Company and established in Grand Junction on the western slope in 1899. By 1909, Colorado was the leading beet sugar producing state in the nation, and more factories were built in Brighton, Fort Lupton, Ovid and Johnstown.
By 1910, sugar beet production in the South Platte River Valley averaged 806,000 tons, which is a lot of beets! You can see huge piles of them in old photographs. The growth of the beet sugar industry led to more opportunities in our area, including more job possibilities and more income. The Fort Collins neighborhoods of Buckingham, Andersonville, and Alta Vista (with their distinct histories and economic conditions) encircled the beet fields and are the living legacy of the laborers who built the Colorado sugar beet empire. Following the end of World War I, Latino families began replacing the German-Russians when the Great Western Sugar Company established a colony (Alta Vista) for its Hispanic workers in Fort Collins.
The Beet Street organization and its logo reference Fort Collin’s agricultural past. When I first saw the logo, I didn’t have the historical reference to understand what it had to do with Fort Collins. Since then, I’ve learned a little about the fascinating story of the sugar beet and its importance in our community. The successful sugar beet industry was a turning point in Fort Collin’s economic history and today, the not-for profit ‘Beet Street’ exists to repeat history by mobilizing the cultural arts as an economic engine—to once more enhance Fort Collins’ economic vitality! Fort Collins was built on ideas, back breaking work, and connections to our national and international economies. The same components will drive our current development. If “history repeats itself,” we’re in for an exciting ride!
Dreaming costs nothing, but not dreaming costs everything!