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Tractors and fishing boats are nearly as common as cars and trucks in Garden City.
Tractors and fishing boats are nearly as common as cars and trucks in Garden City.
Parties are still held at the Opera House, one of several historic structures in the little Clark County community.
Parties are still held at the Opera House, one of several historic structures in the little Clark County community.

Garden City's Potato Famine

Garden City isn’t hard to find. Just watch for the 1,400-foot KELO Television twin towers that have given the town a skyline since 1956.

Dick Pederson was pulling his fishing boat down Main Street with an old Farmall tractor when we visited. He stores his 16-foot craft in a huge warehouse that once held tons of potatoes. “When we were kids and needed money to go to a dance we could always go to Garden City and pick potatoes in the fall or work in the sorting bins,” Pederson says.

“My dad started raising potatoes for certified seed,” remembers Wayne Fletcher, who lives on the outskirts of town with his wife, Joanne. “They always seemed to grow good in the area around Clark and Garden City.”

His dad, Everett, was one of the groundbreaking potato pioneers, along with Charles Blackman who is credited with raising the first crop in 1929. Blackman worked with Louisiana State University to develop a strain of spuds he called Lasoda. He coordinated efforts to find markets for the crops in southern states, Cuba and Hawaii.

Area farmers planted thousands of acres of spuds until McCain Foods closed its processing plant at nearby Clark in the 1990s, bringing on a potato famine as landowners quickly switched to corn and soybeans.

The Maynards are the last potato farmers in the county these days. “My grandfather was raising them 70 years ago or more,” says Jory Maynard, a young farmer from Clark. “I didn’t raise any this year, but my dad [Marlin] did. We’re down to about 120 or 130 acres.

“We just keep hanging on,” he says. “It’s a lot of work. It’s labor intensive and it’s hard to find help these days. But it’s part of what we do.”

The Maynards harvest about 150 hundredweight bags per acre. Their crop will be trucked to Texas, Louisiana and Kentucky in January and February, and used as seed potatoes at greenhouses and small farms.

The potato industry is shrinking, but Garden City still maintains a reputation as a broadcasting center. Wayne Fletcher remembers when KELO-TV of Sioux Falls erected a big tower on the north side of town in 1956 so the company could reach viewers in Watertown, Huron and Aberdeen. Etched even stronger in his memory is a November day in 1977 when the tower blew down.

He was in Garden City when the lights went dark. “I knew the tower had fallen, so I was in a hurry to get home to see if everybody was OK,” he says. “I stupidly jumped across downed power lines to get to my place. That’s something you just don’t do.” Fortunately, the lines were dead so he wasn’t hurt, and everyone was safe at the Fletcher farm when he arrived.

Fletcher also remembers when sulky racing was a popular sport in town, and a carnival was set up for the equestrians and their fans. Today, the horses and carts are also memories for the town of 53. However, a bustling grain business is still conducted at the Wallace Elevator, with its 10 big bins on the west side of town.

Across from the elevator, the town’s historic Opera House remains in use for an occasional wedding dance and the American Legion’s annual turkey party.

Pederson, a self-described “escapee” from California, returned to his home country to fish the lakes and restore old tractors. He recently acquired a 1945 “H” Farmall that his father bought in 1945 upon returning from World War II.

A sign in the grain elevator reads, “There isn’t much to see in this town but there is a lot to hear.”

“That about says it all,” says Pederson. “That’s why I like it here.”

Editor’s Note: This story is revised from the January/February 2012 issue of South Dakota Magazine. To order a copy or to subscribe, call (800) 456-5117.


03:50 pm - Wed, December 3 2014
Thank You for running this, Charly Blackman was my great grandfather and it is good to here that the this he did are not just family stories. I to have planted cultivated and picked potatoes and drove rickety old trucks to the plant in Clark.
I was wed in the Garden City Methodist church and Wayne Fletcher was in attendance as well as much of the fine community your article talks of.
For the last twenty years I have grown my business in Aberdeen. it's not the same as potatoes but it is no doubt that without them thing for me would be very different.
07:57 pm - Wed, December 3 2014
Norma Sunne Strret said:
For all of my growing up I could see the blinking lights of the tower from my bedroom window 8 miles north. My dad would take me to the Sulky races as a child but being the horse crazy girl I was, the dollar he gave me was spent on all the pony rides I could get. It was the most "dad and me" time a farm girl could get. Love the memory.
12:09 pm - Fri, December 5 2014
Rita Wishard said:
My grandmother Treva Headley owned and operated the Home Cafe in Garden City for many years. I spent summers and weekends working for her in the cafe. One day during potato harvest her and I fed 150 people for lunch. In those days there were no dishwashers so her and I also did the dishes. Migrant workers came into town in droves during potato harvest to help pick the potatoes. I also remember when KELO built the first tower and brought in celebrities to advertise the new KELO tower. I was so impressed when "Captain 11" (Dave Dedrick) came into my Grandmother's cafe for lunch. I think I just sat and looked at him the whole time. My Grandmother now lives at Wookey's Assisted Livng in Clark and is 102 years young! Her and I have such great memories of Garden City! I did see the South Dakota magazine article back in 2012 when it was putblished--Thank you SD Magazine!
Rita Wishard
12:35 pm - Wed, December 10 2014
Luz Campa said:
The Campa Family, Louie and Virginia Campa along with thier 7 kids and a grandfather, were one of the many Mexican migrant workers who came each fall to Garden City to pick potatoes. Starting in the early 1940s and continuing until the mid 50s we came to pick potatoes for Howard Rob.

As kids, we looked forwarded to our annual trip to Garden City where the townspeople were the most hospitable folks we met as we traveled for work from state to state. All my brothers and sisters still have fond memories of Garden City, South Dakota.
10:38 am - Sun, December 14 2014
Charlene Peterson DeJong said:
I grew up visiting my grandparents, Pearl & Louie Jorgenson in Garden City. They lived on the hill west overlooking the fairgrounds. I remember when the tower went up and we had real TV. My grandpa was the local policeman. He took me to the sulky races and whatever was going on in town. We saw movies on the side of the elevator in town and I had grape pop at the café. They rented a house on the Hartman farm and worked some for them. I love the smell of potato cellars. The good earthy smell. I have many great memories of Garden City and potatoes.
07:34 pm - Sat, December 20 2014
Tana Wahl said:
I spent many summers visiting my great grandmother Hazel Young who lived at the manor in garden City. She lived across the hill from another distant relative of mine Treva Hedley. I remember going to many turkey shoots in Garden City and playing bingo. I attended bible school at the church there. I have many fond memories of Garden City.

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