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Michael Rustad's Memories


Working the Sugar Beet Fields


In the mid-1960s, sugar beets were introduced as a cropin the Red River

Valley. Sugar beets required lots of tender loving careas well as hard

physical labor. Many of the farmers in the Humboldt areaimported Mexican

farm workers from Texas to tend the fields. Some of thefarmers took pride in

the homes they refurbished but others housed the workersand their families in

deplorable hovels. A few of the houses did not even haveplumbing or indoor



I became friendly with a couple of young Mexican farm workerswhile

working the fields with them side by side. My brother Tonyand I were

nicknamed the "white Mexicans" by the professionalworkers because we could

work nearly as hard but not quite as fast as they could.Tony and I were

frequently hired by local farmers because of our work ethic.It was back-

breaking work to hoe sugarbeets but we got quite good atit. Tony and I were

hired by Hilson Stewart on a per acre basis. I cannot rememberhow much he

were paid, but I believe that it amounted to about $1.25an acre.


Tony and I got our training in hoeing on our farm. In 1965my Dad

decided to grow sunflowers and we were responsible forthe hoeing. We also

worked with a crew of high school kids on Joe Giffen'sfarm. Joe and Alice

Giffen had a boy's dream of a farm with a swimming holeand a very picturesque

setting on the Joe River. When I was a kid, I thought thatthe Joe River was

named after our favorite bus driver and all around goodguy, Joe Giffen.

Joe Giffen had his older son Bobby supervise the high schoolworkers. And

what a motley crew we were. There was Jeff Lofberg, BrianLofberg, Ralph

Giffen, Diane Giffen, Virginia Seed, Mike Rustad, TonyRustad, Susie Stewart,

and a number of others. We worked hard at Joe Giffen'sfarm but we ate well.

I remember that all of the workers were gathered in theGiffen living room.

We were bone-tired from the hard field work but we wererevived by a

gargantuan serving of roast beef, rolls, home-made pickles,(s)mashed

potatoes, and best of all dessert - - often crabapple pieor some other Alice

delicacy. Alice Giffen knew how to feed kids and she wasa most capable

housewife, cook, mother, and all around community leader.We all wanted to be

Giffens after working for Joe and Alice. We often wererevived enough to

have a ball game or take a swim in the river before returningto the fields.

The work got done and it was fun!

r before returningto the fields.

The work got done and it was fun!