Our Farming Roots
Sugar beet farming was a major industry in the valley when Jordan High School was founded. The School's students were dubbed "Beetdiggers" because most of them literally spent time helping to harvest the sugar beets. In fact, each fall the high school closed for about two weeks so that students would be free to join the beet topping work force.
Sugar beets are large, white-root plants which often grow to weigh five pounds or more. The sugar extracted from the roots is an excellent, economical substitute for the more expensive cane sugar that must be shipped in form tropical areas. Sugar beets were planted in long rows and generally harvested after the first frost when the sugar content was highest. Students were typically hired in teams and went from field to field working for any number of farmers. Wages were paid according to the number of row topped or tons harvested.
The sugar beet knife could be a lethal weapon with its sharp hook for stabbing and lifting the beet from the ground (digging) and its keen cutting edge that was used for lopping off the leafy tops (topping).
Today the Jordan High area has changed from rural to suburban and there is not a sugar beet to be found anywhere in the valley. The large sugar plant in West Jordan has long since closed.
Now when Jordan High School students want to reenact the topping of the beet at an assembly, someone usually has to drive to Idaho to find an actual specimen.
Modern-day Beetdiggers Tom, Paul and Jane Rosso, Classes of '97, '99, and '01 respectively, along with Tyler Gray, class of '03, look to their great-great-grandfather James D. (JD) Nelson as their Beetdigger prototype. JD raised sugar beets in the 1920's using a horse-drawn cultivator. It is said that his fields were the envy of farmers for miles around and spectators often stopped to admire his plants and get tips from an expert sugar beet farmer.