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'We got paid $11 for every acre of beets that we thinned:' Generations of Hispanic Sugar beet workers part of the fabric of Colorado

CBS Denver 9/26/2022 Marissa Armas

Carmel "Chuck" Solano's childhood was everything but ordinary.

"This is a picture of me, my mother, and my dad…I was 7 years old then," Solano told CBS Colorado.

Using his hands and a short-hoe, Solano along with his family worked the fields in northern Colorado, picking sugar beets in the mid-1900s.

"At the time when I started, we got paid $11 for every acre of beets that we thinned, and keep in mind, every plant on that acre was touched by human hands," he said. "I hated it, even at the age of 7, when I first started. I would think this isn't any fun, you know, I'd rather be at a school playground instead of out here hacking away."

But for Hispanic families at that time, there weren't many options. Fieldwork was the mainstay of the community and by the late 1920s, the sugar beet industry was the largest employer of Hispanics in Colorado.

"We had sugar factories in Greeley, in Eaton, in Johnstown, in Fort Collins, in Longmont, all across the state," said Solano.

Carmel "Chuck" Solano talks about his childhood as a sugar beet farmworker. CBS © Provided by CBS Denver Carmel "Chuck" Solano talks about his childhood as a sugar beet farmworker. CBS

Making sure that history is known by future generations of Coloradans, prompted Betty Aragon-Mitotes, founder of Mujeres de Colores, to spearhead a project to honor the generations of Hispanic beet workers. Mujeres de Colores is a non-profit based in Fort Collins and is committed to providing essential items to children and adults from lower-income areas.

"There are so many newcomers that come in and don't know the history," said Aragon-Mitotes. "We wanted to make sure that we cement our place in history."

So Aragon-Mitotes and the other group members set out to raise $300,000 to get a sculpture made. And after months of raising funds, in 2021, The Hand That Feeds sculpture was erected at Sugar Beet Park in north Fort Collins.

"With this monument, we're able to show, not only the community, but far and wide, the importance of preserving our history," Aragon-Mitotes said. "This is about the contributions of the Hispanic and Mexican beat workers, but yet never got the recognition they deserved."

Betty Aragon-Mitotes, founder of Mujeres de Colores, discusses the history of farmworkers in Fort Collins and the importance of raising money for a commemorative sculpture to help inform the community of its history. CBS © Provided by CBS Denver Betty Aragon-Mitotes, founder of Mujeres de Colores, discusses the history of farmworkers in Fort Collins and the importance of raising money for a commemorative sculpture to help inform the community of its history. CBS

A well-deserved recognition to honor workers like Solano, and now a place that people can go to remember the beet workers who are part of the fabric of Colorado.

"I think it's important that the younger generation, I think they need to know what we went through in those days," he said.

Mujeres de Colores is having a one-year celebration of the monument on October 16th from 12-4 pm at Sugar Beet Park. Solano has written a book about his experience as a beet farmworker. For more on that, you can visit: https://www.amazon.com/End-Row-Carmel-C-Solano/dp/1483606635

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