The Rutabaga leads to a celebration of our farmers

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  by Mark R. Fuller

As Cumberland established and grew, farming became a key for our settlers. Sever Paulson was an example, as he came here from Norway in 1888 with his wife and seven children. Seeking a better life in America, he purchased 120 acres of land and began his new life. The questions would include, however, how best to make use of this new land?
In 1912, an Advertisement ran in the Cumberland Advocate, saying a proposition for a new canning factory had been made. An informational meeting was called for a Saturday afternoon in early March to discuss the idea.
The builder would be from Indiana and the need for a commitment of those who would provide product was needed before the project moved forward. Mayor Tewksbury and Frank Tempesta would take control of securing the contracts from local farmers.
By early March, the promises were finalized and the pea cannery building was opened. The Advocate in mid-April ran an informational Ad in the paper on how best way to produce a good pea crop, next to an article discussing the sinking of a newly launched ocean-liner called, the Titantic.
The early cannery added new revenue for area farmers. The Advocate, looking to encourage others, ran yearly profits of those involved. In that first year, proceeds after paying for seeds, included $564.00 for Fred Warwick, $113.00 for Louis Capuzzi, and $115.00 for Emil Olson.
The year 1912 also saw the M. A. Gedney pickle factory set up a cucumber pickle or salting station in the Cumberland and Barronett area. It would become the second biggest producer in the State as Thomas St. Angelo would manage the plant over its first seven years.
Farmers meetings were common as were the formation of Associations of growers. In March 1915, a series of meetings were held at the County Ag Building in Barron, at the Barronett home of Matt Arnes and at the Cumberland Library to organize the areas potato growers.
Among things they discussed included which varieties would grow the best in our soils. In Barronett, William Sweet was named their President, while Ed Gleason presided over the Cumberland Association.
That same year, the University of Wisconsin announced a corn growing competition for ages 21 or younger within 15 miles of the city. Anyone interested in participating was asked to contact the high school for particulars. Yes, a shared knowledge for agricultural production was strong throughout our area.
Those that needed machinery for farming these products could also check the newspaper. In 1915, Gale Farm Machinery posted a two-page advertisement offering a new Gale double-lever 8-16 disc harrow for $22.00 and a Single-disc check row corn planter for $28.00. A 2.5 horsepower “Waterloo Boy” engine, meanwhile, could be had for $49.75.
Another product that grew here were rutabagas. Grown by farmers for their own use, they could also be sold for profit. In 1915, Bert Hines returned to Cumberland from Idaho and became instrumental in developing a system of washing the rutabagas as they came in from the fields. He would eventually rent land and by the mid-1930’s Cumberland trailed only Askov, Minnesota in the production of the product.
This led to a meeting of our city businessmen to establish a festival to celebrate our farmers. Fifty-six attended, while Dr. W. N. Hedlack suggested it be called “The Rutabaga Festival.”
Free for all farmers and their families, others come pay a small fee to attend. It would run October 14 and 15, 1932. Full page advertisements ran that September leading up to the Festival, listing the many prizes the businessmen would offer.
As numbers always seem to grow with time, the Advocate would write the attendance that first year, “would exceed the fondest expectations.” It continued, “More than 5,000 farmers came from far and near to enjoy the two-day program of entertainment, sports and lunch.”
Among the awards handed out included $1.50 to M. Momchilovich for the largest rutabaga, 75 cents to Anthony Nevin for the best five-carrot bunch, and 75 cents to Claire Kost for the largest crooked-neck squash. Walter Lathe of Grandview received five gallons of gas from the Farmer’s Union, for coming from the furthest distance. John Lejeune was honored at 85, as the men’s oldest attendee, while Jennie Capone was the woman’s oldest in attendance at 92.
Leonard Daniels, meanwhile, was named “King of the Festival” for eating five quarts of Rutabagas. The Festival board would later publicize the event a success, as the revenue taken in was $529.00, while only $524.00 was spent.
In 1934, a second Festival was held, for only one day. Held on Saturday, September 30, Dr. G. A. Grinde was put in charge of the activities. In 1935, the Festival was back to two days and a queen pageant was included for the first time.
The King of the festival was still the person eating the most rutabagas and was won by Walter West with five quarts eaten in 1.5 hours. Over 15 women contestants were part of a button selling project won by 1933 high school graduate, Ellen Hergert, the Festivals first queen. Helen Wycoff was runner-up.
Some other exciting news for the farming community was also made that fall. Principal Fred Moser announced a new agricultural course would be taught that school year by L.O. Hembre. Its object would be to teach practical agricultural knowledge to the students. Yes, the agricultural community had come a long way since those first settlers in the late 1800’s.






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