FROM THE ARCHIVES: Profitable crops of yore
Fields of corn, wheat, beans and potatoes are familiar sights on farms around the area these days, but some crops featured on the pages of the Greenville Independent in years past are no longer as popular.
Independent editor J.M. Fuller was a judge at the second annual county fair in the fall of 1857. In reporting on the fair he noted:
“We were particularly gratified with a sample of sorghum syrup, manufactured by Hon. S.H. Warren. We prefer its flavor to honey, for which we never before found a satisfactory substitute. From all the information we can gather, we believe more money can be made from the cultivation of this article than from any of the ordinary crops. We hope our farmers will furnish us with any information they may have gleaned from their experience in raising the sorghum.”
But it wasn’t until nine years later that the Independent reported in April, “Stephen Rossman, Esq., of Montcalm, requests us to say that if the citizens of this section will raise, this season, ten acres of sorghum, he will procure a mill and make it into sugar for them. He will also furnish seed to those who wish it.”
Apparently some farmers took heed because in August the Independent noted, “Sorghum has been cultivated to considerable extent this season for the first time. Several mills will be put to work by and by.”
In the fall of 1858 the Independent took note of what it termed a “new and profitable crop,” sugar cane.
“We are informed by Mr. Andrew J . Russell, of Fairplain, that the past season he planted about fifty-four rods of land with Chinese sugar-cane seed. A considerable part of the seed proved worthless, and did not germinate. The crop looked so unpromising it was thought hardly worth cultivating, and was hoed only once, and that quite late in the season, when it began to appear more favorable, and finally attained a height of from nine to twelve feet.
“This cane was ground in a very imperfect mill, wasting, as Mr. Russell estimates, one fourth of the juice. From the juice of this cane which was extracted and saved has been manufactured thirty-five gallons of sirup. Mr. Russell has kindly furnished us a sample of this sirup, the flavor of which, for table use, we think equal to maple sirup.
“Mr. Russell considers this, notwithstanding the above disadvantages, the most profitable crop he has raised the present season, and we trust our farmers will soon devote sufficient attention to this crop to supply the home market, to the exclusion of the disagreeable West India molasses.”
Another profitable crop was recounted in the Independent in the fall of 1911.
“The Gratiot Journal speaks as follows of a peppermint crop in a township next east of Carson City:
“‘Probably the most valuable load of stuff ever drawn to town by a Gratiot county farmer was that hauled into Carson City by E.C. Akin of New Haven township. The load consisted of peppermint oil and brought nearly $9,000.
“‘This product of New Haven township farms, was sold to A.M. Todd of Kalamazoo, who is probably the largest dealer of peppermint in the country. There were 37 cans of oil on the load containing a total of 3,219 pounds. Not all of this was Mr. Akin’s, however, as several of his neighbors were interested in the load with him. Besides this big load of oil there was considerable more of the product drawn in by others and between fourteen and fifteen thousand dollars worth of oil was marketed in Carson City, all sold to the Todds of Kalamazoo.
“‘This valuable crop was all raised by New Haven township farmers on a section about three miles square. The peppermint industry is growing to considerable proportions in that section of the country.’”
In earlier days it was the custom of farmers to bring to the newspaper office samples of particularly large or otherwise unusual produce. This often would be displayed in the office’s front window and mentioned in the newspaper. In November 1866, editor E.F. Grabill received one such offering:
“Henry Berrige has presented us with a half dozen ruta bagas of greater magnitude than we have seen before. The six filled a half bushel measure, and the largest weighed 16 1/2 pounds. Mr. Berrige raised 200 bushels of these turnips on three-eighths of an acre.”
Apparently Berrige’s crop was even greater than reported. The next week the Independent reported, “Henry Berrige has an abundant supply of turnips for his table and a few to spare for his stock — in the past season he raised 800 bushels on three-eighths of an acre!”
A big day’s work
Montcalm County still is a primary producer of potatoes today, but this report in October 1864 caught our attention.
From Editor James W. Belknap: “We don’t intend to brag but we believe that we have a couple of men in this place who can’t be beat digging potatoes. Two brothers, Asa and Chester Hale, left this place last Tuesday morning after sunrise, rode five miles to the farm of John Kent, Esq., in Fairplain, dug, picked up and put into the cellar eighty-six bushels of potatoes, and got back before sundown.”