Our annual city festival, Tater Daze, is just around the corner! In just two weeks, we’ll be celebrating potatoes along with Brooklyn Park culture and history. It’s a well-known fact that these versatile starchy vegetables are an integral part of the history and identity of Brooklyn Park, but just how did they shape the community? Potatoes were a source of sustenance to individuals and families in more ways than one—they provided a family with a useful ingredient in the kitchen, but were also used in trading of crops and other farm goods.
Potatoes were grown in large fields and yielded a plentiful crop. It was typical for a farmer to bring wagon loads stacked high with over 200 bushels into market multiple times a week. Annually, anything up from 26 million bushels could be expected to ship from farmers to buyers. In 1915, Brooklyn Township was one of the biggest potato-producing communities in the United States and by 1970, Brooklyn Park boasted 98 farms spanning 7,825 acres. The city’s last commercial potato grower, Calvin Gray, stopped farming in 1992, nearly 100 years after Brooklyn Township had been deemed “an exclusively agricultural town” by writer Isaac Atwater.
Tater Daze began in 1964, and at that time, Brooklyn Park had only been about 15 percent developed and there were at least five families that were four generations deep in potato farming. The first year’s festivities included a queen pageant, a Tater Mash dance, kite flying, a parade, games, a farmers’ market, rides, and a pancake breakfast. Prizes included gasoline, free groceries, cash, and 420-pound bags of potatoes donated by local growers. Many of these activities and prizes are still part of the celebration today, along with some new ones, like a talent show and a petting zoo. A publication from 1966 about Tater Daze said “Brooklyn Park farming and potatoes are almost synonymous. Potatoes put us on the map in the first place.” The countless stories of potato-growing families and a look at the numbers prove the influence of the crop on the city and why we still continue to celebrate it. Brooklyn Park would not be what it is today without potatoes and the farmers who grew them.