In a 1940 era Fourth of July parade, Lorain Grabau and Frank Stein drive a 10-mule-team hitch. Note businesses on North Broadway:  Covered Wagon Cafe, Valley Hardware and Stickan's Ben Franklin Store.  Visible at upper right is the northeast corner of the Congregational Church, a temporary structure for the parade (?), the dairy, and then houses to the north. Of interest: perhaps a platform for parade judges along the storefronts, the canopied storefronts and the streetlight globe at lower right.
In a 1940 era Fourth of July parade, Lorain Grabau and Frank Stein drive a 10-mule-team hitch. Note businesses on North Broadway: Covered Wagon Cafe, Valley Hardware and Stickan's Ben Franklin Store. Visible at upper right is the northeast corner of the Congregational Church, a temporary structure for the parade (?), the dairy, and then houses to the north. Of interest: perhaps a platform for parade judges along the storefronts, the canopied storefronts and the streetlight globe at lower right.
Something I try to never do - repeat a column, but in this case, next week's column depends on this one. History that you need to know that had a terrific impact on countless families and the economy in the immediate area. So, read on.

It was late 1920s when Reid Murdoch of Chicago established a canning factory in Rochester to process vegetables to be grown on the rich farmlands of southeastern Minnesota. The canned produce would be labeled "Monarch Finer Foods" and have a lion logo. By 1932 they began renting farms in the Spring Valley-Grand Meadow area and the former staple factory along the Great Western railroad tracks on the west side of town was acquired for offices, a seed warehouse and repair shop. (You can still read names for the parking spaces on the east side of the building.)

A Hormel (Austin meatpacking company) publication in 1940 chronicled the story of the Reid Murdoch mule farming in the area. The operation played a major role in sustaining our agricultural economy by providing jobs and sustenance for farm families and cannery workers. Headquartered here, it was the second largest firm in the United States doing pea and sweet corn farming, with fattened cattle as its byproduct. Two- to 3-year old steers were purchased in Canada and western states and shipped to local farms to be fattened for market. Cattle were first put to graze on pasture and/or picked cornfields, then moved to feedlots for fall and winter, where they were fed corn silage and pea vines, plus supplements. They received dedicated TLC - special feed, plenty of water, fresh bedding daily and the feedlots were sheltered from the winter winds. Manure, a valuable resource, was spread on the fields. It was reported that 3,000 head were sold to Hormel that year, with about a 300 pound gain per head.

There were 47 farms under lease and carefully managed with a regular schedule of fall plowing, spring disking and drag harrowing before the carefully spaced plantings, and then five to seven cultivations during the growing season. Farms were planted with 40 percent peas, 50 percent corn and 10 percent clover, in rotation, with the clover being plowed under for enrichment.

In the early years, 200 mules were the preferred means of power. They were bought in Missouri for $150 each and general farm manager Larry Cooper was quoted as saying, "Mules rarely get sick, pull faster than a horse, and eat half as much." Then, too, "Due to dainty feet, they never tread on a plant, and when pastured in the winter, their soil fertilization is better than any known tractor!" Farm tenants could use the mules for their own home gardening, of course.

The growing season was a flurry of activity and workers often put in 12 or more hours per day. There was land preparation, seeding, cultivation, and crews, including women and young folks, who hoed the beans. When harvest time arrived, pea harvesters were leased from a Wisconsin company and pea viners were situated around the countryside. The odor of the pea stacks was unmistakable. Early on, sweet corn was picked by hand, often involving entire families. Charlie Street set a record - one person picking 11 tons of corn in one day, at $3 a ton!

Produce was hauled by truck to the canning factory in Rochester. In later years, tractors replaced the mules and efficient mechanical pickers and harvesters were acquired. In 1948, Reid Murdoch sold out to Libby, McNeill & Libby, which continued the business. The "mule farming operation" remains a unique and memorable era in our history.

Watch this column next week for a story and picture of some of the pea viner crews.