October traditionally is the month of potatoes, which is why the Potato Days celebration occurs this time of year. Potatoes were a huge source of income and pride for most farmers in the area, especially during the early to mid-1900s, including the Brush Creek Valley.
“Farm families tried to stack their hay and thresh all their grain before Oct. 1 so that they could concentrate on harvesting potatoes, a process that took about three weeks. Most farmers used a potato digger to harvest, either pulled by horses or, later, a tractor. The digger brought dirt and potatoes to the surface and passed them over a screen so the potatoes fell on top of the soil. The difficult part was getting those potatoes from the ground to the cellar. People followed behind the potato digger picking potatoes off the ground and loading them into baskets, which they then dumped into sacks. Two baskets filled a sack, and workers got paid according to how many sacks they filled. Each 100-pound sack had to be lifted onto the accompanying hay wagon in order to get to the cellar. For this backbreaking labor, workers got paid between 5 cents and 8 cents per sack. High school workers could earn about $1.50 a day, which they considered good money, especially during the Depression. Since picking potatoes was so labor-intensive, farmers usually called on extra help outside that of their family members. Farmers hired only temporary workers, however, who often enhanced the family nature of the enterprise rather than detracting from it. Teenagers made up the largest temporary labor force, and the high school in Aspen traditionally canceled classes for at least a week every fall so students could pick potatoes on the local farms. Rural grade schools closed, as well. These students brought a festive attitude to their endeavor, and usually received room and board in addition to their pay. One farm daughter fondly recalled the potato harvest as one long slumber party.”
History excerpt from “Rural People with Connections: Farm and Ranch Families in the Roaring Fork Valley, Colorado” by Anne M. Gilbert. Image depicts Charles Hoaglund, at what is now the Anderson Ranch, and possibly a son loading potatoes onto a wagon circa 1930.
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Rob Ittner is back on the local culinary scene as the new food and beverage director at Anderson Ranch Arts Center.