Alternative Crops

The Nebraska Writers’ Project (before September l, 1939, the Federal Writers’ Project) was a Depression-era work relief program for unemployed writers and other white-collar professionals. Nebraska History (January-March 1940) included items gleaned by Writers’ Project research workers from Nebraska newspapers indicating that early farmers experimented freely in their endeavor to obtain wealth from the land by new methods and with new crops.

“On January 6, 1892, the Columbus Journal told of a local man who was endeavoring to interest his neighbors in the growing of peppermint. It was his conviction that every farm had several acres unsuitable for crops generally grown in Nebraska, and that growing peppermint on this land would make every inch of the farm pay. ‘The fact that peppermint grows wild on low lands in the Platte Valley leads naturally to the conclusion that it might succeed as a cultivated crop,’ he stated. . . .

“Another suggestion, this time for reforesting the state with trees which would yield a profitable produce, was advanced by a Butler County farmer in 1883. It was his idea to create huge forests of sugar maple. The trees would be an asset to farmers because they would produce sugar after a few years of growth. ‘Once bring the farmers of Nebraska to understand that there is money in trees as well as in grain or livestock, and the problem of how to get forests started and grown on our now treeless prairies would be in a fair way to being solved,’ he claimed. The plan was scoffed at by persons who doubted whether maple trees would produce sugar in this climate, but when the farmer displayed a cake of maple sugar which he said came from a ten-year-old tree on his farm, the critics were forced to admit that perhaps there was something good about the scheme.

“Along the same line of thought was a plan introduced in an article in the Beatrice Express for December 19, 1872. According to this writer the common box elder tree yielded a sap very rich in sugar. It was said that on several occasions farmers in southeastern Nebraska had succeeded in making sugar from the sap of the box elder. And, besides its value as a sugar-producing tree, the Express said that the box elder was also an excellent source of good firewood.”

(September 2003)


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