In 1870 several hundred settlers arrived at a patch of land at the confluence of the South Platte and Cache la Poudre Rivers in Colorado Territory. Their planned agricultural community, which they named Greeley, was centered around small landholdings, shared irrigation, and a variety of market crops. One hundred years later, Greeley was the home of the world’s largest concentrated cattle-feeding operation, with the resources of an entire region directed toward manufacturing beef. How did that transformation happen? Cattle Beet Capital: Making Industrial Agriculture in Northern Colorado (U Nebraska Press, 2022) is animated by that question.
Expanding outward from Greeley to all of northern Colorado, Cattle Beet Capital shows how the beet sugar industry came to dominate the region in the early twentieth century through a reciprocal relationship with its growers that supported a healthy and sustainable agriculture while simultaneously exploiting tens of thousands of migrant laborers. Michael Weeks shows how the state provided much of the scaffolding for the industry in the form of tariffs and research that synchronized with the agendas of industry and large farmers. The transformations that led to commercial feedlots began during the 1930s as farmers replaced crop rotations and seasonal livestock operations with densely packed cattle pens, mono-cropped corn, and the products pouring out of agro-industrial labs and factories. Using the lens of the northern Colorado region, Cattle Beet Capital illuminates the historical processes that made our modern food systems.
Michael Weeks is a lecturer of history at Utah Valley University.
Troy A. Hallsell is the 341st Missile Wing Historian at Malmstrom AFB. MT. The ideas expressed in this podcast do not represent the 341st Missile Wing, United States Air Force, or Department of Defense.
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