Tuesday, September 18, 2012

It's Harvest Time.....

For generations here in Northern Maine, potato harvest has been an important part of who we are. Aroostook County, where I live, is also known as the "Potato Empire of the World". Schools are put on hold for 3 weeks once harvest begins, usually from mid September through the first part of October. This means that up here the kids go back to school 3 weeks earlier at the end of summer in order to compensate for the 3 week harvest break. Since the farmers all pay taxes to support our communities, they require the help of the students to bring in their crops.

Potato harvest has changed quite a bit since I was young. Way back then they had pickers. I remember all the very cold, early mornings, the long sections and the rotten potatoes that would get all over your gloves. EWW!
My father in law driving the tractor about 30 years ago.
While I am so glad those days are over, I can tell you that I am so grateful I got to experience it. The potato harvest is a great way for kids to learn what hard work really is, and it builds character. At least thats what my parents always told me. LOL! No really, where else can kids work really hard and earn a lot of money at such a young age? Kids as young as 8 were allowed to pick potatoes and earn money. This money was usually spent on new school clothes, boots, or a new winter jacket. If you were 16 or older you got the pleasure of working on a harvester, and that paid even more money, which back then might have meant a new leather jacket or skis. Whether in the field picking or on the harvester, the days were long and the nights were short, unless you were on the night shift ~ then the opposite was true.
Breakdowns were a time where you could take a much needed rest, a quick trip to the woods for a bathroom break, or if you had a long section, time to catch up. Hopefully they weren't an all day thing though, because time is money you know!
Breakdowns could also be a lot of fun, because you got to goof off a bit with your friends. I can remember some of us climbing inside an empty barrel and letting someone roll you around in the field. That's probably illegal today, though. LOL! We'd even have races to see who could run across the potato rows and be the first to reach the edge of the field. So much fun!
Today there aren't many small farmers around. The larger corperations have all taken over. The farmers don't require hand picking anymore and some have even gotten rid of harversters that use real people. They have been replaced by huge machines with minds of their own. Technology changes everything, doesn't it?
Many years have gone by since those potato picking days, and believe it or not, I grew up and married the son of a potato farmer. One of the best parts of having married into a farm family is that all three of our sons got to experience what it was like to pick potatoes. I am so glad they did! Our youngest son told us that it made him realize how important education is, because without it, it just means you have to do a lot of manual labor. Just that statement alone made it all worth it!
Do you have any potato harvest stories you would like to share? I'd love to hear them!
P.S. Thank you to Grass Farms for allowing me to take some really great photos!


  1. Hi Julie, What a wonderful experience for you as you were growing up. I grew up on a horse/dairy farm right here in our town. I will always be a farmer's daughter. The experiences will never be forgotten. There are potato farms near here, also. My husband is a barber/stylist and they are always bringing him 10# of potatoes just to be nice.We appreciate it so much. Julie, your posts are always so very interesting. I enjoyed reading about no school and the kids are then helping out the potato farmers. Keep writing .....you are good at it!

  2. It really was a wonderful experience, although I never thought so at the time. Would you believe I don't even like potatoes?
    I always wanted to experience living on a dairy farm. How lucky for you! I've never milked a cow before, but always wanted to try.
    Thank you for your kind words!

  3. Julie You make it all sound so glorious. What I remember is freezing cold fingers and toes, standing in the cold pouring rain crying because I was so far behind on my section and everyone was going home. Crying with a bloody nose because one of the older kids hit me with a rotten potato. I don't think I ever got rolled around in a barrel, but I did get rolled down a hill once and almost got knocked out before I got to the bottom. Oh ya and the time I got fired with two other kids and had to walk 6 miles home (was my mother ever mad) But it was all worth it. It taught me a lot of lessons and a good work ethic. I'm so glad the kids still get out of school for harvest it's a part of our heritage. Great post just had to add a little to it.

  4. Janice......you poor little thing. I am sorry that all happened to you.

    Julie...are you sure it was a wonderful experience.? Just kidding. We had to help my mother on the farm in the house and lawn and garden more than Dad in the barn and in the fields. But we had a pet cow...her name was Elaine. Dad used to put us up on her back now and then. She was very gentle. Sorry for going on...just have a lot of stories.

  5. Well Miss Thing! Are you sure you didn't deserve the rotten potato in the nose? Hahahaha! Robin and I had a good laugh at your comment. So funny!! Yes, there were bad days in the field, but there were fun times too. Robin and I remember crying in the morning, begging mom not to make us go. Robin thinks mom stayed home, cranked the music and danced in celebration that her 5 kids were gone all day!! MOM-CATION!!! She probably needed it!
    Susannah, I come from a big family that raised all our own food. We had beef cows, pigs, chickens, and rabbits. We used to ride the cows around our apple orchard. My sister would put a dog leash on Clinger (one of the cows) and take him for walks. Lots of great stories.
    I love hearing from all of you!


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