By 1922 More Potatoes Were Grown in the Valley Than Any Other Crop
These potato fields were in what is now Blue Lake
In March 1908, the “Potato Special” pulled into the Valley. Staffed by government agents, they promoted the potato, illustrating the latest tools, species and techniques. The local ranchers took notice, and by 1922 more potatoes were grown in the Valley than any other crop. While cattle were a more profitable source of income, almost all locals allocated a part of their lands for potatoes. The soil in the Roaring Fork Valley was perfect for the potato. Well drained, with adequate water for irrigation, the potato thrived and carried many a family through the hard years of the Great Depression. At the peak, the Roaring Fork Valley shipped over 3.5 million pounds of potatoes to other markets each year.
Planting consisted of following a horse drawn plow and dropping seed potatoes
Although a simple crop, the potato required extensive labor, and for most families, everyone worked long hours during the growing and harvesting season. Each spring farmers would select appropriate seed potatoes, cut them for seed and plow their fields in preparation for planting. Before tractors, planting consisted of following a horse drawn plow and dropping seed potatoes at appropriate intervals; the next pass of the plow would cover them. With the advent of planting machines, seeds would be dropped mechanically, but the process still needed to be watched. Often the youngest child was assigned to make sure every seed dropped in the right place.
At the peak, the Roaring Fork Valley shipped over 3.5 million pounds of potatoes to other markets each year
Through the summer, the plants had to be regularly weeded, but the big work began in the fall after the vines froze and the potatoes ripened. Most farmers used a digger pulled by a horse or tractor, which unearthed the potatoes, leaving them on the surface. The difficult part was getting the potato from the ground to the cellar. This was done by walking the rows and placing each potato into a basket which went into a sack. Workers got paid by the sack. Each hundred-pound sack was lifted onto a wagon, and the worker credited for his sack. In 1930 the pay was 5 to 8 cents per sack. High school kids, many of whom left school for the harvest weeks, could make $1.50 per day, a good wage during the Great Depression years.