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Payton Randle, The Bismarck Tribune, Published June 24 2013

Root cellars still popular with some ND residents

BISMARCK – Minnie Geiger remembers the time when it was necessary to have a root cellar.

“I watch these young girls now go to the store. We didn’t have to go to town,” she said. “It’d be a cold day in hell when I would go to town to buy a loaf of bread.”

Geiger has lived in her home in Morton County for more than 40 years and raised 11 children in that home.

“I’d take a bag full of whatever was in there and that fed us for a week,” she said. “I never went to town to buy groceries. I always had enough.”

There was already one root cellar on the property when they moved into the home, but the Geigers built a second root cellar closer to the home.

“I used it a lot,” she said. “For potatoes, apples, carrots. Everything.”

A root cellar, built underground or partially underground, is commonly used to store vegetables, fruits and nuts or other foods.

Root cellars keep food at a low temperature and steady humidity. They keep food from freezing during the winter and keep food cool during the summer months to prevent spoilage. Typically, a variety of vegetables are placed in the root cellar in the autumn, after harvesting. A secondary use for the root cellar is a place to store wine or homemade alcoholic beverages

Kevin Bullinger, director of the food and lodging division with the North Dakota Health Department, said root cellars were more popular years ago, prior to refrigeration. “There are certain pockets in the United States where they are still popular,” he said.

Bullinger said there has been a push to produce more food locally because of foodborne outbreaks from fresh produce.

“We preach about harvesting and growing your own food,” he said. “Root cellars are good for storage of that food.”

In addition to being able to store vegetables at a proper temperature, Bullinger said, root cellars also can provide protection in the case of tornadoes.

Joe Boehm, Minnie’s brother, is a potato farmer, and he still keeps potatoes in his root cellar.

“It takes a pretty good-sized refrigerator to hold 2,000 pounds of potatoes,” he said.

Minnie’s son Warren Geiger said he remembers everybody having root cellars when he was growing up.

“It was an easy place to put everything,” he said. “You didn’t need two or three refrigerators. There were times when you didn’t make it to town for two or three months.”

Jackie Buckley, Morton County Extension agent, said some people in North Dakota still have root cellars, though not very many.

“In the more rural subdivisions, people could put them in,” she said. “They could be used more because people are wanting to grow more of their own vegetables.”

Buckley said root cellar building plans are available in the Morton County Extension Office.

“We’ve had people call and ask for plans,” she said. “They may say 1965 on them, but the plans for root cellars aren’t going to change.”

Buckley did say that root cellars are not necessarily outdated because of modern refrigeration.

“It’s true that potatoes, carrots and beets are better off stored in a root cellar than in a refrigerator,” she said.