Andy Epple's Gardens Gone

by Bob Vance,
originally published on June 21, 1966.
Courtesy of the City of Greeley Museums.

The inexorable procession of time and events is about to force new changes in Greeley’s history upon Andy Epple’s heirs.

It all began last year when Mr. and Mrs. Albert W. Holmes gave up the market gardening business her stepfather began early in the century and developed into the largest and most successful operation of its sort in northern Colorado.

60 Years in Business

It was, Holmes says, the first time in 60 years that all manner of vegetables had not been grown on the place and sold directly from the big dugout just across from the old Epple family home.

Now he is in the process of demolishing the greenhouses where millions of plants were grown for sale to truck growers from half a dozen counties.

It’s a matter of economics, the Holmeses say. For one thing, housewives no longer can their own produce. And taxes have zoomed. “We just can’t make a living at it,” Holmes comments.

Epple did, though. When he came here in about 1901, commercial truck gardening was almost unknown in this part of the state.

Disappointing at First

The first years were disappointing because Epple knew nothing about irrigation or the market he was to serve.

But he had had considerable experience in this sort of farming and the picture soon brightened.

A story about his venture in the old American Magazine in 1927 described the business as “so efficient that it attracts not only the retail patronage of a large countryside, but hucksters’ wagons from little towns in Wyoming and Nebraska 150 to 250 miles away.”

And another story, this printed in 1921, indicates the fertility of what was popularly known as Andy Epple’s Gardens.

That year he grew watermelons, peppers, cantaloupes, tomatoes, cucumbers, squash, pumpkins, turnips, carrots, parsnips, beets, cabbage, honeydew melons, potatoes and sweet corn.

For Own Table

And for his own table, he threw in patches of celery, asparagus, strawberries, and so forth.

In October of that year, 20 tons of squash and five tons of pumpkins lay piled behind the dugout.

The story goes on to describe the proprietor and his subterranean office:

“It is the warehouse, retail salesroom, shipping room and business office of Andy Epple, a real market gardener on a big scale, and it probably accommodates in the course of a business season a greater financial total of business than many a more pretentious down town store building.

“Certainly it represents a more comfortable profit to the owner and proportionate savings and satisfaction to the thousands of people whom he serves during the year.”

Sense of Humor

Andy is described as a gregarious type, with a considerable send of humor. And many older residents can recall the watermelon feeds he was accustomed to stage in the cavernous dugout.

He lived until 1958 – long enough to see the beginning of the end for the business he pioneered.

Holmes says his father-in-law, not long before his death, predicted that he would be forced to quit. “I thought,” Holmes goes on, “that by making some changes and with some more equipment we could make it. But you can’t sell at 20-year-old prices and pay today’s expenses.”

Holmes isn’t sure what he will do with the 40 by 90 foot dugout, since it would be expensive to demolish its concrete sides and fill in. He now is using it to store farm equipment.

Cottonwood Doomed

Still another link with the past – one of the big cottonwood trees in front of the house – also is doomed.

The tree is said to be one of the those planted about a century ago along the original boundaries of the Union Colony.

It is dying now and is to be taken out in a matter of weeks.

Andy used to relate that General John J. Pershing – whose wife was the daughter of Wyoming’s first governor – once bought a watermelon from the dugout and sat in the shade of the tree to eat it.