Archive for the ‘Colorado Agriculture College’ tag
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!