Food tells the story of us: our history, industry, and culture. Take a look at how the food industry began here in Douglas County.
Early Colorado natives ate fish preserved with salt, as well as rabbits, deer, and birds. With horses, the Utes were able to hunt for bison to expand their meat options. They maintained a wide hunting and gathering economy. They ate seeds, berries, pine sap, and roots that they gathered, also drying fruits and meats for the winter.
When new settlers came to Colorado, their diet and economy looked very different. Unlike the nomadic natives, the pioneers chose to settle in one place to develop agriculture. Over 150 years ago, many came to our area when miners began searching for gold. When gold was not found, farming became the primary industry in early Douglas County, which was officially created with 17 other counties in 1861. The previous year’s census showed 1,388 residents in the county.
“Early Douglas County homesteaders primarily raised cattle because hilly geography is not highly tenable to farming. A few chose to farm wheat, like the Lowell family along East Plum Creek, and potato crops were profitable for a time in Larkspur and Greenland. The Cherry Creek Valley focused on dairying ventures, and German immigrants there ran the successful Cherry Creamery for decades. The Carlson-Frink Creamery in Larkspur also ran well into the 20th century. Some ranches, like the Diamond K near Highlands Ranch, raised poultry and small sheep herds. Beef has always been king in Douglas County, especially along West Plum Creek. Douglas County ranchers remain avid participants in Denver’s Western Stock Show, and popular 4-H Clubs thrived in the mid-20th century. This passion for (and proximity to) cattle is clear in the recipes of pioneers and ranchers, which often include variations on beef and dairy.” (DCL Achives, Food Culture in Douglas County)
Individuals involved in agriculture helped to establish the area. An early farmer to the Highlands Ranch area, Dad Rufus Clark was a big potato farmer. Samuel Long began his homestead in 1880 and later practiced dryland farming on 2,000 acres. The house, sold to John Springer, later became the Highlands Ranch Mission. John continued to enlarge his ranch and soon raised horses and cattle on 12,000 acres. An Englishman, Charles Allis, set up a ranch in the 1880s on over 1,700 acres near Castle Rock, known as Greenland, where he raised sheep.
While the agricultural industry remained important, many changes have taken place over the years. The Denver Union Stockyard, with 4,400 seats, was established in 1886 on 130 acres. It was the largest receiving market with facilities for 70,000 sheep, 33,000 cattle, 10,000 hogs, 2000 horses or mules, and 4500 cattle chutes. In 1890, the Castlewood Dam was commissioned to provide irrigation for farmers and ranchers. In the early 20th century, tractors replaced horses and turned thousands of acres of grassland into wheat fields. Dust storms of the 1930’s put many farmers out of business, caused by periods of drought and high winds. Many Japanese Americans were forced to leave California and moved to Colorado during World War II, becoming good farmers and harvesting spinach.
The Douglas County area remained largely farms and ranches for nearly a century after its creation. After World War II, Colorado’s population began to grow significantly. The suburbs began to change from open land to subdivisions. After I-25 was completed in 1963, the connection from Denver to Colorado Springs made this change more convenient. Agriculture has remained in Douglas County in the southern part of the county, even with huge growth in the northern part of the county. Production has changed from wheat, corn, and cattle to hay, cattle, and horses. The cowboy and agricultural influence is still in tact in Douglas County.
Even with a huge history in farming and ranching, the county has shifted much of its food industry in recent decades. Restaurants, cafes, and fast-food establishments dot the county in force and have combined food with service to create a new era of eating and social experiences to fit our modern schedules and culture.