Less well known is a program that brought many of those incarcerated Americans to work in the beet fields of Bingham County.
Sugar is a staple product at any time. During World War II it was a staple that was in short supply. We think of sugar as a basic baking ingredient and something to put on our cereal. But in wartime it takes on new importance. It can be converted to industrial alcohol to be used in the making of synthetic rubber and munitions. It was so important to the latter, that the United States Beet Sugar Association stated that a fifth of an acre of sugar beets went up in smoke every time a sixteen-inch gun was fired.
The federal government encouraged farmers to plant more sugar beets, since the supply of cane sugar imported from the Philippines was cut off during the war. But planting beets isn’t enough. Farmers needed workers to cultivate and harvest their crops. Many men who might have once hoed the rows were now working in defense industries or fighting in the war.
Volunteers stepped up to thin beets. Business owners closed shops early, members of various clubs stepped up, and Idaho Fish and Game employees spent some time in the fields. A newspaper editor, a college president, and countless clerks volunteered. But more help was needed.
The Japanese internment camps became a source of labor for the wartime sugar harvests. Laborers and their families moved into the beet fields in nine western states. The Farm Labor Camp in Shelley was the center of the activity in Bingham County.
The program lasted about three years, employing several hundred workers in Bingham County from the internment camp at Minidoka.