Potatoes on the Homestead- Then and Now


I planted some seed potatoes this spring, partly on a whim, after I spotted them for sale at the local farm store. I’ve never grown them before. I was fairly neglectful of this patch, and the soil seemed so sandy as to be useless. But they thrived. Kirk dug up this batch on Saturday, and there are still more in the ground. The varieties here are Yukon Gold and Russet Burbank. I’m pleased- I’ll definitely plant more next year!

Potatoes were a major row crop on this farm in the early 1900’s. I found the below history excerpt in the archives at the Snohomish Historical Society. This history was compiled by Eric Hoem, a descendent of the original homesteaders of this farm, who now lives in Oregon. Here I believe he is quoting his father, Edward Alexander Hoem, who was a third generation farmer here. Edward Alexander was born in 1914, and lived on the farm for 35 years.

Eric has done an amazing job compiling his family history and archiving it for reference and enjoyment by all. As I work this farm, the Hoems are never far from my thoughts. I think about how hard farming was in their day, how they cleared this land from forest and swamp and turned it into a productive farm, with mostly man- and animal-power. And, how active and capable their women and daughters were in the farming work. But some things haven’t changed-notice the reference to sheep, another crop that is now returned to these fields. And, it seems that dealing with trespassers is nothing new either!

I can write a lot about the harvest of the potato crop, but I’ll try to be brief.

Some things are rather vague, for instance where did the first seed potatoes come from? In any event, hours were spent by the whole family cutting potatoes into pieces that had at least two sprouts and proper shape to go through the planter. The first one-­row planter was pulled by a team of horses. This planter opened a furrow, the seed dropped to the opening, and a pair of disks did the covering. In about three weeks, the potatoes came up; then there was the hoeing, dusting for flea beetle, cultivating, etc.

From the time the potato plants were out of the ground, it was a struggle to keep them cultivated and dusted. For years the cultivating was done by horses — one row at a time. The big push was the digging, with a lot of help from family and hired hands -­hours of back-breaking picking. For years we stored the potatoes in the old dairy barn to wait for the time to market them.

Many times a buyer would order 1,000 sacks of #1’s to be delivered to the Matson Dock in Seattle in four day’s time. The sorting, sacking, etc. was a rush act; with Mom and the girls on the sorting table. If I wasn’t sacking and sewing them closed, I was trucking the potatoes to Seattle — sometimes three trips a day and sometimes four. Our old Chevrolet truck kept perking along with the sacks, 5 ton, on a 1 1/2 ton truck. Or course they had to be unloaded. There were times that potatoes were so cheap that a lot or the crop went for hog or cattle feed; then there was an occasional good year.

We also delivered to some stores, a few sacks at a time. Many days I would do this before school. On one occasion, I remember taking a load of seed potatoes to Ellensburg. Pop had made a deal with a Case dealer who was going out of business. They had one Model “C” Case left, so we ended up with our second Case tractor in 1936. I had the task of hauling it home, and it really did a good job for us.

I do not remember the year, but on another occasion I drove to Portland and back in the same day to pick up a two-row Iron Age potato planter. This we used many years in producing potatoes by the 100’s of tons.

Dealing with Thieves

There was a time when you were in your rights to take the law In your own hands.

It was a moonlit night in late October about 1932. Some of the girls [his sisters] and I were coming home from a high school Halloween party In the family car (1923 Packard sedan). Turning the corner on the flat, we saw two men walking into the field where the sheep were. Also back 40 rods from the road was a field of potatoes.

We hurried to the house and got the old double barrel shotgun and drove back and forth along the road. Annabel was in the front seat, Evelyn drove, and I was in the back. Eventually a car stopped opposite the gate into the field and we pulled up behind it as those two guys approached the road with something on their backs. We thought they were sheep but what they were carrying was a sack of potatoes apiece.

We ordered them to stop, and they jumped behind a blackberry bush. I fired two shots in their direction, and we took off to get the license number of their car. We caught up to them in about a mile, got the license, and pulled into Fred Bakeman’s yard to phone Pop who was at a poker game with some of the “boys.” Out from town came 0.0. Morse, the town marshal, and several cars of Pop’s friends. Someone decided to drive up River Road. There was the car with two women and another man. They were brought back to the highway and out from the bushes came a guy with a bloody face. It so happened that one guy took some bird shot in the face and shoulder! I do not know what happened to the other one.

The whole bunch had a surprise that they couldn’t go out and help themselves to someone’s potatoes. We didn’t know how many times we were ripped off, but we saw evidence many times. Anyway, this incident put a stop to that activity for a while. By today’s standards, I would have gone to jail and perpetrators would sue.

2 thoughts on “Potatoes on the Homestead- Then and Now

  1. Heidi Buck says:

    oh my goodness, I’m realizing in reading your blog that you live on the Hoem homestead!! WOW! Elling and Amalia (and their daughter Hattie Frances Hoem) are my husband’s relatives.
    how can i get my hands on family information about the Hoems in Snohomish?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *