In Colo., Veggie Giveaway Spurs Massive Response

When Joe Miller, the owner of Miller Farms in Platteville, Colo., said he would give away free vegetables on his farm, an estimated 40,000 people showed up. Miller talks about what prompted his offer and the overwhelming response.

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MELISSA BLOCK, host:

Now to what could be another sign of the economic times. Joe and Chris Miller own a farm 30 miles north of Denver, Colorado. And on Saturday, the Millers opened their fields to anyone who wanted to take away what remained after the harvest - potatoes, onions, beets and carrots. They expected about 5,000 people to show up. What they got was much, much bigger. An estimated 40,000 people came and clogged the nearby highway. I asked Mr. Miller where he got the idea for his food giveaway.

Mr. JOE MILLER (Farmer, Miller Farms, Platteville, Colorado): I was actually combining field corn, and I was looking over there that we had a lot of potatoes left. And I thought, man, it's a shame that that stuff is just going to go to waste. But I was just thinking there should be a way we could put this stuff to use without having to harvest it ourselves and haul it to a food bank, and all that, and put proper work into it. So I just came up with the idea for a free weekend.

BLOCK: Had you done that ever before?

Mr. MILLER: Never had done it before, no. We've allowed some food banks and things to come out later in the year before and harvest some stuff, but never, never just opened to the public for free.

BLOCK: When was the first point on Saturday that you realized, boy, what we have is just way more people than I ever thought we would?

Mr. MILLER: That - well, we had listed that we would start at nine o'clock. And what we normally do is we have a pretty good sized parking lot. We have about a five-acre parking lot here that we have people park in. And what we do is we put them out on a hayride trailer, and we haul them out into the field, and they harvest. People started arriving here before the sun came up.

And then about 8:30, our parking lot was full. We had a line of cars down the road. All our tractors were full. There was a line of people probably 300-foot long, 100-foot wide waiting to go out. Then our parking lot filled up. So then we started just directing cars right out into the field to park right out where there was no crops growing.

BLOCK: Yeah.

Mr. MILLER: And we realized at that time that it was just turning crazy.

BLOCK: How many pounds of produce - of potatoes and onions and carrots - do you think walked off the farm this weekend?

Mr. MILLER: Approximately four to five hundred thousand pounds. We had 80,000 bags. We had three pallets of bags that had 80,000 bags in them. Ten-pound, fifteen-pound bags that all went away. So, you know, whatever that amount is. And we have no idea really, but...

BLOCK: But the fields are clean?

Mr. MILLER: The fields are clean. And then we had to turn people away. Sunday, you know, we contacted the local TV station to say that, you know, we were wiped out. And we still had to turn people away on Sunday that just kept coming out.

BLOCK: Well, Mr. Miller, what do you think? Would you do this again next year?

Mr. MILLER: Ah, if we do, we'll have to do it in a different type of way because we - you know, you can't be shutting down the highways.

BLOCK: Yeah. I guess the sheriff would appreciate that.

Mr. MILLER: And it was probably one of the most stressful days I myself have ever had in my life having all them people here. And fortunately there was no one got hurt. There was no accidents or anything. But it was certainly dangerous with that type of crowd. And the fact that they parked on the road with, you know, semis going by and things, it was really frightening.

BLOCK: Yeah, I bet. What was the best thing you heard all day?

Mr. MILLER: Just thank you, bless you. Actually, we directed the cars through the field. We kind of had a U where they went in and they could park, and then we had a different exit for them. And I stood at the exit trying to direct them to go the other way from the farm when they left, on County Road, and just talked to thousands of people that they all said, thank you. It really made it worthwhile, you know. And that was the good part of it.

BLOCK: Well, Mr. Miller, it's great to talk to you. Thanks so much and happy Thanksgiving.

Mr. MILLER: Thank you.

BLOCK: Joe Miller owns Miller Farms along with his wife, Chris. It's just outside Platteville, Colorado.

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