Corn, potatoes and soybeans, as all of nature, have been refreshed by the gentle rains this year. A drive through the countryside on the Fourth of July revealed corn shoulder-high rather than knee-high. Strawberries picked in Upsala were a juicy crimson treat. Black raspberries hugging the fence line have produced more berries than the birds can devour, leaving some for ice cream topping.
Curiosity about past summers has been awakened by the lush green surroundings. But celery? Celery, you say? Yup, celery. Raising celery is one of the more surprising enterprises revealed through research.
J. C. Highhous’ home was perched at the rim of land overlooking the Mississippi River bottom. Located between Highland Avenue in Little Falls and the river, the rich soil was well suited for a commercial produce garden. Five of the fifteen acres were gardened, with celery as the principal crop. Highhous became an expert on celery culture and a consultant to other growers.
The river bottoms were also the gardens of Anna Streed. Her berry patch was located between North Little Elk Drive and the river. Anna Streed was a meticulous home economics teacher who recruited her students as summer-season berry pickers. Junior high-age girls walked from their homes to the west end of the Broadway bridge where they were greeted by Miss Streed before 6:00 a.m. They were transported the 2 miles to the berry patch to spend the day. Each girl brought her own lunch. However, one former berry picker vividly remembers the day Anna said there was no need to bring lunch because picking would cease at noon. Berries had ripened beyond what she anticipated and a day-long picking was in order. Anna “treated” the girls to lunch – a bowl of strawberries with cream. The girls received two-cents per pint for raspberries and two-cents per quart for strawberries, only if the berries were found without blemish. If the boxes were found stained from berries the pickers paid for the berries.
Anna Streed’s berries were sold at Stiegels Market, but one berry picker remembers accompanying Anna on a marketing excursion seeking top price for berries. They left at 4:00 a.m. and finally sold the berries in Red Wing.
Children were commonly involved in gardening and marketing produce. 4-H booths at the county fair attested to the gardening skills of the young. In towns along the railroad, like Cushing and Randall, the Gedney Co. had large round vats for cucumbers, often picked and sold by children.
Pesky potato bugs threatened potato patches. Children were hired to pick potato bugs which were placed in tin cans containing kerosene. At the demise of the bugs, the can was emptied and the fortunate entrepreneur received a penny for every so many bugs. Potatoes were a major farm crop in Morrison County at the turn of the century. August Johnson who farmed near the Crow Wing County line, was one of many potato farmers who hauled wagon loads of potatoes to market.
Saturday mornings on Market Street many languages could be heard as farmers and gardeners from throughout the county discussed the current prices for products. In wartime, folks at home raised victory gardens. Throughout the early years, with hoe and hand-cultivator, gardeners brought from the earth food to feed their families and communities.
Today’s desire for organic foods may bring back some of the more simple methods of gardening. But couldn’t we all do without picking potato bugs?
By Jan Warner
Copyright 1994, Morrison County Historical Society