Today’s blog has nothing to do with writing, but everything to do with where I live. Aroostook County, Maine … potato country.

This is the time of year when everyone’s focus is on the weather and the fields. Months ago, the potatoes were growing in the sun. The scenery was beautiful.

But a few weeks ago the farmers began killing off the top plant of the potato (since it’s a tuber grown in the dirt) which allowed the skin of the potatoes to harden. (In days before chemicals they let nature and a hard frost do this job for them.)

On Friday all high schools in Aroostook County will close for three weeks allowing the students the opportunity to help harvest the potato crop. Really.

I didn’t grow up here and I hear stories of the years before automation that nearly every business closed and families went into the fields to harvest potatoes by hand. (Check out the picture below) Diggers tilled the potatoes to the surface. Then workers would pick them by hand, filling up the basket with a handle and transferring the load to the larger barrel. A card with a number was shoved into the slats to identify the picker who filled the barrel. Each barrel earned a person $.50. Yes, that decimal point is in the right place. Barrels were collected on flatbed trucks and hauled to the potato house for storage.

It was long hours of back-breaking labor. Now there are havesters.

The potatoes are dug out of the ground and transported on conveyors to the body of the harvester where young people stand and cull out rocks, dirt, and plant material. Then the conveyor deposits the potatoes directly into the bed of potato trucks that haul them to the potato house.

With the automation of the harvest, children can no longer help with the harvest. Workers need to be at least 16 to be on a harvester. And this is where my children come in. We have a dear friend who is a potato farmer. (I worked for him one season yeeeeaars ago when my children were young. It was a wonderful experience. Of course I didn’t grow up with it so I found it fascinating. Hard work, but educational. Sorry, I digress…) Anyhoodles … they work on the harvester from 6 am to 7 pm. A veeeery loooong day indeed. 

But it’s only for three weeks. I figure you can do anything for three weeks. And they get paid very well for their labor. So all my children have worked throughout their high school years. I am proud that Little Boy Blue will once again be one of a handful of students from his high school actually working the harvest. The tradition of students working for farmers is waning. With so few teenagers working, I suspect within the next decade there will no longer be a harvest break at the schools.

This will be our last time dealing with the harvest in our house. Early hours, praying for rain (to take a day off), praying for sun (so you don’t freeze your butt off on the harvester all day), cleaning Wally World out of Little Debbie snacks and work gloves, doing laundry every night so the potato dirt covering four layers of clothing doesn’t spread further than the back door to the shower, reheating dinners for exhausted children, and all the other stuff that goes with the season.

I’m pleased my kids have had this experience to take with them into their work years. I suspect there will be few jobs they will work that will be as labor intensive as harvesting potatoes. I hope the lessons they learn from their years in the field will be carried with them for a long time to come.

So now, I have to ask you. What have you done, either that  you loved or hated … that when it was over was a life lesson you’ve kept with you? 

0 Responses to One Potato, Two Potato …

  • Hi Nina, Kara…

    Love the photos. And you’re blog rocks!

    Thanks for letting me drop by for a visit.

    Diane

  • Love the pictures. The first 3 years I was back in Maine, my mother and I raised potatoes (on a very small scale) in her garden. Harvesting them is like digging for buried treasure. You never know what you’re going to find. It was a hoot.

    On the other hand, one summer I worked as a waitress at a restaurant on Route 1 in Scarborough. Other than contracting a “virus of unknown origin” which totally ruined the first six weeks of my senior year of high school (variously diagnosed as spinal menangitis and/or polio), I realized that even if I was starving, I would never work in food service again. I have no patience for whining kids, and even less for adults who whine about their food. It’s always a valuable thing to know what you can and can’t do for work.

  • Judi – Thanks for visiting. Yeah, the tips can be good when you waitress, but it’s amazing what you have to put up with. 😀 I think everyone should have to do it for a day. It just might make them better patrons. 😉

  • That is so cool! I love that the kids get to work out in the field. what a great experience!!

    Lu

  • Luanna – Ummm … I think you should ask them. Not everyone enjoys it! LOL! I do think every kid should have to do it for a day though. It sure would make them appreciate that $50 pair of jeans a little more. 😉

    Diane – Thanks for coming by! I’m glad you enjoyed the blog. Drop by again!

  • Great pictures and blog post, lady!

    Hugs,
    Destiny

  • Hi Destiny! I love it when you come visit me! *hugs*

  • I worked in three fast food places in high school, each one lasting less than a week. I would have to be extremely desperate to ever even consider food service again. My d-i-l loves it and thrives on the entire experience. More power to her.

    Then I worked as a maid in the Hilton in Las Vegas (I grew up just a few miles from there, in Henderson NV. To this day I like my pillows to be “just so” and I can clean a bathroom in 3 minutes flat. No maid work for me anymore tho. My back couldn’t take it.

    But the worst experience had to be billing commercial insurance for a hospital chain. The stress was incredible. Every company has a differnt rule for how long you have to file, and if you make an error, they will send it back and tell you what to fix. That doesn’t seem so bad, does it? Well, if you have made six small errors (such as not left-justifying info in a box – I kid you not) then you will get it back six separate times. Since many companies only give you 90 days to file a “clean claim” they can effectively keep you working on the same item long enough to say you didn’t file a clean claim in a timely fashion and deny the entire thing. Since hospitals that take medicare require you treat all commercial clients the same way – you can’t bill the patient, and you have to write it off. That does not go over well with the big bosses. Can we say “stress city”? I developed an ulcer, TMJ, and had muscles in my neck so tight that it took treatments and therapy twice a week for 8 weeks to even begin to go back to normal. BTW, I left that job recently and now stay home to write full time.

    And do I ever appreciate being my own boss!

    Loved your story and the great comments. Pics are very cool.

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