Gardening Etcetera: Harkening again to our days as a spud producer | Native

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Here is an old barn in Brannigan Park. Potato cellars, fences and outbuildings have also been preserved. Please help to maintain it.


SUSAN DEAVER OLBERDING

SUSAN DEAVER OLBERDING

With an altitude of 7,000 feet, sticky water supplies, and daily temperature fluctuations, Flagstaff has never been a prime farming destination for farmers.

In fact, the wood and grass drew the first settlers to the region. But communities now known as Fort Valley, Hart Prairie, Sunnyside, Doney Park, Kendrick Park, Spring Valley, Garland Prairie, Williams, Munds Park, Anderson Mesa, and of course the lush Oak Creek Canyon were once farmed.

Pioneers moving in at the end of the 19th century often came from areas where it was easier to grow, and of course the newcomers planted crops because they thought it would grow as easily as at home. They quickly learned of short growing seasons, strong winds, poor soils, late frosts and inconsistent summer monsoons. But they also learned to adapt, for example learning terracing methods from the Hopi to protect young plants from harsh winds.

On September 1, 1917, an agricultural expansion office was opened in Flagstaff to support the farmers of the 25,000 acre arable land in Coconino County. The Extension Agent’s first annual report lists potatoes as the county’s leading crop, followed by wheat, oats, barley, corn and pinto beans. Local businesses bought ninety-eight percent of the potatoes, and enough wheat was grown to supply the Flagstaff Milling Company.

The agent created programs to improve soil, treat seeds, control rodents, and improve irrigation by encouraging planters to modify natural water channels or dig new ones. He also set up a Farm Bureau made up of local farmers. In the 1930s, the only woman in the bureau was the co-founder of the Museum of Northern Arizona Mary-Russell Ferrell Colton, who maintained a farm across from what is now the Museum of Northern Arizona. She worked the farm for twenty years before donating the area to the museum to convert it into the research center. Many of the farm buildings have been converted into offices and storage areas.