In a sign of bad economic times, more than 40,000 show up when a Weld family invites people to gather surplus produce.
By Allison Sherry
November 24, 2008 "The Denver Post" -- Want one more palpable sign of a desperate economy?
An estimated 40,000 people came to a Weld County farm Saturday to collect free potatoes, carrots and leeks.
Cars snaked around cornfields and parallel parked along Colorado 66 and 119 early in the morning to get free food from the Miller family, who farm 600 acres outside of Platteville, about 37 miles north of Denver.
As this prolonged Indian summer continued, the Millers had decided to give away produce because so much was left over at the end of their annual fall festival. Any day now, a few deep freezes would kill it off.
They expected between 5,000 and 10,000 people spread out over a couple of days. Instead, they found themselves on Saturday morning inundated with cars and people with sacks and wagons and barrels ready to harvest whatever was available.
The Millers canceled the second day of the giveaway originally planned for today because, as Chris Miller put it, "the pickins' are very slim now."
At one point, 30 acres of family farmland had become a parking lot. Their crowd estimate of 40,000 plus was based on the number of cars. Sheriff's officials said they "wouldn't be surprised" if that count was accurate.
Traffic was backed up almost to Interstate 25, and police ticketed people who had illegally abandoned their cars in the frenzy.
"Overwhelmed is putting it mildly," Miller said. "People obviously need food."
Evidently, Platteville isn't the only place where this is the case. Last week in Denver, thieves broke into freezers owned by the Park Hill Grandparents Organization and stole Thanksgiving trimmings — including more than a dozen frozen turkeys — set to be donated.
And in Lakewood on Saturday, people lined up in the dark at 6 a.m. to collect Thanksgiving boxes, donated by the Jeffco Action Center. By the end of the day, 5,141 people had gotten food — the biggest demand in 40 years.
At the Miller Farm, it never got truly unruly.
They had friends and family members help direct cars. Sheriff's deputies cruised up and down highways trying to move traffic along, after fielding complaints from neighbors.
The family makes most of its money in the summer and fall, visiting 42 farmers markets a week, and hosting a fall festival where relatives charge an entry fee and then teach people about where their food comes from.
Normally, any unpicked produce goes back to the land. But after hearing reports of food being stolen from some nearby churches, the Millers decided to let people take what they wanted for free.
Sandra Justice, a Greeley resident who works at a technology company, brought her mother and son to pick potatoes. The price was nice, she said, but Justice also enjoyed picking her own food in these downtrodden times.
"Everybody is so depressed about the economy," she said, noting she hauled off about 10 bags of vegetables. "This was a pure party. Everybody having a great time getting something for free."
Allison Sherry: 303-954-1377 or email@example.com