The fall potato harvest in Maine is a time to reflect, remember past digging seasons in Aroostook County.
Growing up on a Maine potato farm meant seeing not just the spud fields, picking a section to keep up and munching on a snack when the digger breaks down. Or past reflections in the memory mirror of you the dirty, industrious picker running out of barrels. Having to wait to catch up the row after row you find yourself getting behind as the new rows are harvest with a squeak squeak dusty put put drone of the Maine farm tractor.
I did not stop the fall harvest when trudging out of the Maine potato field at the end of each dusty day.
The rolling fields where no one leaves the Maine potato field until everyone is caught up. And collect their water jug, radio and lunch box to wander tired out of the field, straight to the bath tub to clean up before a waiting supper to fit the hole in the gut. Hungry from all the fresh air, hard physical work in the wide open potato field with all the views. Canvassed with a backdrop of Jack Frost’s handiwork on the leaves surrounding the humble workers in the colorful Maine outdoors.
After a harvest supper dishes were cleared, washed, put away from the Maine farm house kitchen table, it was time for another surface purpose.
Laying out old newspapers to collect the fine field dust that sifted, cascaded out of the cans stuffed full by the field workers on the back of the farm trucks. As those old tired trucks with open bodies and rows and rows of potato barrels hoisted to fill them made there way back and forth to the storage house bins all day long during harvest in Northern Maine. Each numbered ticket the identifier of who worked so hard to fill all those barrels each day with four large weaved baskets each before sliding the barrel marker in a secure top groove.
The ticket count that showed the effort each harvester worker in the Maine potato field was tallied up each night. My mom and I would sort through the numbered tickets, placing them in piles and writing down the final count. Some numbers that would week after week be disputed by the designated picker with a different tally. And others that gratefully accepted the barrel count as accurate and fair.
The Maine farm potato picker you are parked next to during the back and forth field harvesting sometimes moving the section marker. As the sunshine beams stronger, hotter and lazy happens. Or some neighboring workers getting a field reputation of switching tickets. Yours coming off when no one is looking and replaced with their “brand”, ticket number in the cedar top stave groove declaring for all to see that they filled your barrel.
The money earned by a youngster in Maine picking field potatoes would be used to buy a warm winter jacket.
Or school clothes needed to help the family budget. But part of the hard toiled for spoils would be ear marked for something the picker found near and dear. Like a generator for a light on the picker’s bike. Or a toy that was spotted in the Sear’s Christmas catalog that came out right about harvest each fall. That was gawked at, pages turned and studied slowly during rainy days when the harvest was halted. Or frost in the morning caused a two hour delay in potato field operation.
Here’s hoping for a safe, no accident harvest for the potato farmers, crews in Northern Maine. And a large yield, with bins and bins of abundant potatoes that keep fresh, quality loaded and with no breaking down. Or converting to waste in pockets of rot. Make the trip north to see the Maine potato harvest operation!