Everything I apply to life I learned in the Maine potato field. Sort of.
Seriously, you start each morning, listening to the radio to see what time the Maine potato farmer is going to dig today.
A little frost or rain over night means a delay, or no picking. A reprieve from above in the food chain. But when you do get to the spud field after a big breakfast and carrying your lunch and water jug, you have to pick out a section.
A section is basically, how long a responsibility in the field can you handle?
If the rows are long, and one digger proceeds at a slow pace back and forth uncovering spuds to pick, you have to judge what is doable. To still stay caught up. You don’t want to be waiting for the digger. You need to avoid being hopeless behind, rows and rows out of uncovered potatoes waiting to be picked. That is discouraging but so is life sometimes. The best lessons are mistakes or miscalculations. Taking ownership, responsibility and stopping them from happening over and over. And wondering why.
Four baskets fill a 165 pound Maine farm potato barrel.
You put your ticket on the barrel and it gets plucked. Placed in a can as the barrel is hoisted onto a flatbed farm truck. The potatoes head to storage, your ticket to be counted that night. Sixty cents a barrel was the pay when my four kids picked a few years back. Before graduating to work in the potato house or on the harvester for an hourly wage. Where they thought now we are cooking. Have really arrived.
Kids spend the money if they think the item is worth six barrels of potatoes or whatever the exchange is as they contemplate a purchase. I have seen my kids pick something up, put it back on the store shelf and utter the word’s “Dad, that’s not worth six barrels of potatoes”. They worked too hard to part with their hard earned proceeds for something deemed an unfair exchange or quality for the work required to buy it. Maine potato picking video I posted.
No one leaves the Maine potato field until everyone is picked up.
No one left high and dry. If you find yourself behind due to poor section selection or the hot sun slowing down your production, others will show up to pick up your section. To add to their daily barrel tally. If you run out of barrels, you pick tops off the rows you get behind so when you get barrels, you can pick your section faster.
Digger pulled by the tractor breaks down? You head to the woods to do your business, make a nature call. Or have a snack and enjoy the break. Put it to good use to rest up. Or if hustling for a new bike, you trot down to a section that is behind that has barrels. You pick one or two barrels to tag with your ticket. You stay busy. You make good use of your time.
Being outside in the Maine fall scenic foliage is exciting and beautiful. Blue skies, cold mornings, blistering hot afternoons. That’s a lesson in picking potatoes, my entry level job that was the blue print for every other job after that.
Growing up on a Maine farm was a valuable experience. And you are needed by the grower, shipper. You and he both are at the mercy of the biggest unknown, the Maine weather. Your section may grow or shorten too depending on the division marker of your neighboring picker. Who may be an ambitious little red hen or become lazy in the afternoon sun like a slug.
The field section markers may mysteriously re-adjust between where you end and your neighbor starts too.
End rows also can grow as the field lengthens. You find grass, tough picking, sods on the ends as a rule. Those are the picking ABC’s of mastering a Maine potato field. Watch the operation first hand with this Maine potato picking video .
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