Hard Times
Glenwood Springs, Colorado CO

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January 22, 2013
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Working all day, all year on a 10-acre vegetable farm

LaVerne Starbuck lives on Divide Creek south of Silt. She worked for 25 years as a schoolteacher and principal. She has served as a trustee on the library board, hospital board, planning and zoning commission and the West Divide Water Conservancy District board.

LaVerne Starbuck: I was born in 1926 in Arvada, and graduated from Arvada High School. I was number eight of 10 kids. We lived on a 10-acre vegetable farm and grew all kinds of vegetables and fruit, tomatoes, onions, corn, strawberries, raspberries. You name it, we grew it. We raised a lot of different things so that we would have seasonal revenue.

We raised asparagus, and all of us kids were expected to cut and package it every day. We had so much we had to cut twice a day, in the morning before school and in the afternoon when we got home. At night, right after supper, we would bunch it like you see it in the store today. We sold it for 1 cent a pound and we cut about 1,000 pounds a day. There were 12 of us, plus my grandfather, so that $10 a day had to stretch a long way.

Gallacher: How old were you when you started working?

Starbuck: As soon as I could carry crates to the packing shed so my mother could crate the strawberries. I was probably 4 or 5. The older kids got the bigger assignments. They were picking corn while we were crating strawberries.

Gallacher: Where was your produce sold?

Starbuck: There was vegetable market in downtown Denver on Market Street. My dad would take produce down there three times a week. At that time the grocery stores would come to the market and buy from the farms. We sold a lot of vegetables and corn to Safeway.

Gallacher: Did your father and mother have other workers?

Starbuck: No, it was just the family. We were working all the time. When tomatoes were in season we picked tomatoes, when asparagus was in season we cut asparagus. During the summer it was green beans, peas, raspberries, blackberries and strawberries.

Gallacher: What time did the day start?

Starbuck: As soon as there was enough light to see, and the day was never over until we got the asparagus bunched or the onions in the shed or the corn in burlap sacks. We put five dozen to a sack.

Gallacher: It sounds like hard work. Did it feel like hard work to you?

Starbuck: No, because we knew it was our livelihood, and we didn't know any other way to do. We were expected to do it, and we did it.

Gallacher: What was your father like?

Starbuck: He was the disciplinarian. He was on the school board for my entire 12 years of school, so I couldn't misbehave even I'd wanted to. He also became a Jefferson County commissioner when I was in high school.

Gallacher: What about your mom?

Starbuck: She worked all the time. I don't know how she did it, bless her heart. But one thing about it, the older kids helped my mother with the younger ones and that was a blessing. We all had chores and we would trade off from week to week, from dishwashing to drying, mopping the floors, cleaning and vacuuming.

We would work all day during the summer and then get together with all the kids in the neighborhood at night to play games, tag, kick-the-can, hide-and-seek.

In the wintertime we would get together and skate up and down the irrigation canal that ran past the farm. We'd build a big bonfire and skate at night. It didn't cost anything, and it was great fun. We didn't have to spend money to entertain ourselves.

Gallacher: You worked hard in the summer. Were you able to let down in the winter?

Starbuck: Well, we also raised celery. It wasn't like the celery you get in the store today. The celery today is not finished. We finished celery by digging a trench about 12 inches deep the full-length of the field. When we cut the celery, we would wrap it in newspaper and stand it up in the trench, and then cover the row with straw. Then my father would cover the whole row with a sheet of canvas.

We would leave it like that for six to eight weeks and then, just in time for Thanksgiving, we would uncover it, cut off the outer stalks and it would be bleached, tender and much more palatable than what you get in the stores today. I guess people who grow celery now figured that the old way required too much work.

Today everything comes in plastic, but back then we made our own fruit boxes. My father had a big machine that would staple through wood. He would buy thin, precut sheets of balsa wood. We would soak the wood overnight so that it was very pliable, and then Dad would have us kids fold the wood into the box shape. We would hand the box to my father, and he would staple the corners.

So during the winter we were getting ready for the summer. He kept us busy year-round.

Gallacher: Where did he get that work ethic?

Starbuck: His father was a vegetable farmer in Wheat Ridge. My grandparents were from Nebraska by way of Ohio, Indiana and Illinois. Their name was Morris, and they came from England generations ago.

My mother's last name was Voss, and she was a first-generation German. She and my grandmother both spoke German, but my mother would never teach us the language. She said, "You are American citizens, you will learn English."

My Grandfather Voss was a railroad man and he built railroad cars and laid track.

Gallacher: What was life like for your family during the 1930s?

Starbuck: That was when we were getting a penny a pound for asparagus and 90 cents a crate for tomatoes. I knew we were poor, but we always had plenty to eat.

We had a cow, and my father would save the calf for beef. We raised our own pigs and chickens.

I got one pair of shoes, and I didn't have a store-bought dress until I was in the sixth grade. All my dresses were made from the older girls' skirts and the fabric from the 100-pound flour sacks. Mom made five loaves of bread a day to feed us, so we went through a lot of flour.

In those days the flour sacks had floral designs, so if you used the same flour you could get fabric with the same pattern. Two sacks were enough fabric for my mother to make a dress for me. She used the plain white sacks to make our underwear and dish cloths.

My mother canned no less than 300 quarts of tomatoes and 300 quarts of green beans in the fall.

Our farm was near the railroad tracks, and it was very sad to see all of the homeless and destitute people riding the rails. The trains had to slow down as they passed our farm, and when the men saw that we were raising food, they would jump off and come to our door looking for something to eat.

My mom would always give them a cup of coffee and make them a sack to take with them. Sometimes it was 10 or 15 men a day.

Gallacher: Were you ever afraid of them?

Starbuck: My mother always made us hide. There was never any problem and most of the men offered to help, but my dad didn't want to take a chance. They were all good people, just destitute and desperate to find a way to live.

Gallacher: How many bedrooms did you have?

Starbuck: We had four bedrooms, two upstairs and two downstairs. We kids slept four to a bed, sideways. My parents had one bedroom, my grandfather had another and that left two for all of us kids.

In the summertime it was easy, we would go out and sleep on the haystack. But in the winter, sleeping was crowded and uncomfortable. There was a lot of elbowing.

Gallacher: Your family worked hard. What did you do for fun?

Starbuck: My parents played cards. My mother played the piano, and we would sit and sing. We would sing when we were working in the garden or around the asparagus-packing table. That was our entertainment.

I don't think my mother ever went to a movie, but sometimes, if we did real good, my father would take us kids to the movies on a Saturday afternoon.

They always had a drawing, and you could win a sack of groceries. It cost 5 cents to get in. That reward of a movie kept us believing we could do the work.

Gallacher: In what other ways did your parents encourage you?

Starbuck: My father always told us that if we were going to make anything of ourselves we had to go to college. He never doubted that we would all go to college.

How we got there was going to be up to us, because it certainly wasn't going to come from the farm. He was right. We all ended up going to college. Out of the 10, six of us got degrees.


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The Post Independent Updated Jan 22, 2013 01:38AM Published Jan 22, 2013 01:36AM Copyright 2013 The Post Independent. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.