Memories You Just Can't Beet
Having been born and raised in Richland County, agriculture has had a lasting impression on me, and still does. As a child, my mom and grandma leased their land to wheat farmers, but it was beet farming that I really have memories of. My mom started driving beet truck in 1984 when she was pregnant with me. She worked for Tom, Montie, and Steve Lorenz for six years, and for Simards. I have distant memories of riding in those dusty trucks. Seat belts were always mandatory, but in those old trucks you really needed to wear one to keep from hitting your head on the roof! I remember playing in a particular thicket next to one of the fields and coming away with my hair full of cockleburs, which took my mom more than an hour to get out of my hair. Personal hair loss aside, it was interesting to me, how these dirty beets pulled from the ground could go through this stinky factory, and then there was sugar!
After I got married and became a mom, sugar beets once again surfaced in my life. I worked two years in the tare lab, getting to be a small part of the odious magic that happens within the factory. I worked on the testing side; the belt station was my favorite, mixing the beet samples as they came down the belt so they could be tested for sugar content. I also got to meet a lot of people that I otherwise might-not-have, some of whom I still bump into. I wonder if my oldest son has memories of me coming home smelling like the factory, or more appropriately, smelling like money. Isn't that a turn-of-phrase we're all familiar with in this neck of the woods?
Sugar beets have played a vital roll in the agriculture and development of this area, along with many other crops, and that plays a role in all other aspects of life in this region. Whether a person thinks they have anything to do with sugar beets or not, the truth is that they probably impact you more than you realize in terms of economy and the sustainability of our community.
It's been many years since I worked at the factory, and even more since I got to hitch a ride in a beet truck. I hear that there are regulations now and passengers aren't allowed. Hooray for being born in the eighties so that I could get a small taste of the work and time that went into beet harvest.
These days it plays no less a role in my life, because what am I doing now? Writing stories about sugar beet producers and Sidney Sugars! I'm also making a bunch of sugar beet piñatas to celebrate this harvest season, and hopefully, there will be whole other generations of kids with fond memories of those sweet beets.