Picking Potatoes in Maine

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Dear Louise,

I loved your post this past week on the seaweed harvesting tradition in Brittany, France, and thought I would share with you a special “harvest” that takes place each fall in the area where I grew up!

For many years, I have been wanting to travel “home” to Aroostook County to photograph potato harvest in the Fall. I really wanted to see and capture images of potatoes being picked by hand rather than with harvesters, which are mostly being used today. It was difficult to find a farmer who still has “pickers,” but with the determination of my sister, she was finally able to find one in Fort Fairfield, Maine, right on the Canadian border, who welcomed our visit.

Since I was 8 or 9 years old growing up in Northern Maine, I picked potatoes alongside my siblings, friends and neighbors. Our school year would begin in mid-August. We would go to school for a month, and then be let out to work in the potato fields for 3 weeks, or until all of the potatoes were dug. The first few years my mother allowed us to “pick,” she said she most likely spent more money on laundry detergent and special treats for our lunch boxes than we actually earned, but it was worth it for the experience. Truthfully, I was never a great picker but I loved it. It was mostly about the community of it, and the fact that I could earn enough money, when I got a bit older, to buy my winter clothes, pay for my own Christmas gifts for family, and put 1/2 of what I earned in a savings account for college. I loved that the local radio station would come on the air at 4am and let us know who might not be digging on time because of frost or wet. I loved that the stores in town stayed open well into the evening during harvest so the people who worked in the fields could do their shopping. And I especially loved spending time with my friends in the fields, working hard but also raising some hell on occasion!  We would dress in many layers in the morning but by lunchtime we usually had stripped down to our t-shirts. We would go home in the late afternoon tired, very dirty, sun and wind burned but happy with ourselves for a job well done. And I have to admit, I loved that this was the only time all year that my mother would let us eat store-bought sweets. My favorite were the Devil Dogs!maine potato harvest, nanette faye photography, cooler, red cooler, maine

So you can understand why I was very determined to get back to Northern Maine to photograph this dying tradition of hand picking before it is long gone. I hadn’t been in a potato field since I left for college many years ago but everything came immediately flooding back to me with one step into the field; the smell of the dirt, the sound of the digger, the feel of the baskets. I even remembered that the barrels were only suppose to be set up in every OTHER row so the trucks could fit through to pick up the full ones. Nothing had changed except that this farmer no longer uses the colorful, numbered tickets to determine how many barrels were picked by each picker.

On the morning we got word that the farmer was going to dig, I dragged my sister out of bed at 6am, reminiscent of harvest mornings gone by, to head north as I didn’t want to miss a thing.  We stopped a couple times on our way to the farm for me to photograph some gorgeous fall foliage. And, when we arrived at the farm, Mr. Bernard Webb of Webb Farms and his family made us feel right at home. They all spent lots of time chatting with us about the the history of the farm and about their family. He even invited us into his kitchen and showed us some great photographs of the farm from over the years. Mr. Webb, his adult children and grandchildren couldn’t have been nicer to us.  And the guys and gal picking potatoes were great fun and such hard workers! And of course, we continued the tradition of joking that girls are better pickers than boys, right Shae? :)

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Darcy ~ excellent field manager

Bernard Webb, farmer, maine farmer, maine potato board, Fort Fairfield, Maine, Nanette Faye Photography

Mr. Bernard Webb of Webb Farms

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I have so much more to share about potato harvest and the “art” of picking potatoes by hand. My sister and I even had a couple very special things happen that afternoon in the field.  But these stories, and many more photos will have to be saved for another day.

I am off to enjoy the rest of this beautiful, colorful Autumn season in New England.  I hope next year, Louise, you may be able to join me for fall foliage, and maybe even a trip to Aroostook County to see the harvest!

Lots of love,

Nanette

 

 

 

A huge thank you to the Webb family for welcoming my sister and me to their beautiful potato farm.

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30 comments on “Picking Potatoes in Maine

  1. Mike Gordon says:

    Great job Nan & Sue, sure brings backs lots of memories, mostly good, but I can still feel a twinge in my back just looking at those spuds.

    Mike

  2. Mary McGillicuddy says:

    Your mother wouldn’t let you eat store bought treats and mine wouldn’t either. My treat after I moved out was frosted pop tarts! Aside from that, great story of your “harvest” days. Hard, hard work to start your (and other Aroostook County kids) early lives.

    • Nanette says:

      That is so funny, Mary! We actually got frosted pop tarts in our Christmas stockings each year! Huge treat! Hard work but we sure learned some great life lessons along the way! Thanks for reading!

  3. stephinie says:

    I swung over from facebook (bfth). I *love* this post! The pictures are beautiful & the story too. I’ve been hoping to move to Maine since enjoying a road trip with my mom along the coast a year ago. Hopefully next summer I’ll be headed back to New England. It’s a beautiful place… for sure.

    • Nanette says:

      Stephinie, thanks so much for “swinging over!” I’m happy you enjoyed the photos and story…pretty dear to my heart! If you make it back to Maine, give me a shout! I am in the Portland area!

  4. Paula says:

    what a wonderful story about simpler (maybe?) days when people worked so hard to naturally feed themselves from their land. We take these things for granted these days and don’t always appreciate all the hard work that some put into their everyday lives of trying to make a living and keep food on the tables. Thanks for sharing this part of your childhood with us Nanette…I had not heard about this part of your life yet, so I loved hearing about the fond memories. So sweet.

  5. Dedra Webb says:

    So neat to see the pics of my family farm I grew up on!! Bernard is my Dad and I now live in San Antonio, Texas. This brings back so many memories for me…..and I LOVE the pictures! You did a great job on the story!! Thank you so much! <3

    • Nanette says:

      Hello Dedra! Thanks so much for your comment! I am so happy you enjoyed the pictures of your family and family’s farm! Your Dad was wonderful to my sister and me the day we visited. What a kind man he is! I have a brother in San Antonio, as well! Thanks for your comment!

  6. shay-Lynn Schools says:

    This was very special to read.. what a great job.. thanks for sharing.

  7. DARCY WEBB says:

    everyone is lovein this, you did a great job, thank you, i made a copy for mom and dad they love it too.

    • Nanette says:

      Hello Darcy! It makes me so happy that your family is enjoying this! That, for me, is what it’s all about! And thanks so much for making a copy for your parents.. We loved meeting them and all of you! Thanks again for having us!

  8. Bev. Rowe says:

    Amazing article; incredible photographs. You really captured the family pride and sense of community here. Well done.

  9. Linda says:

    Love, love, as usual!! Can feel that beautiful “pain” and can smell the earth…….Harvest is such a beautiful time of the year!

  10. Shae says:

    What a wonderful article! I really enjoyed it :) Thank you for including me in this one and in the photos. I am so glad I was a part of all this. Hope to see you next year as well haha. And yes, girls are WAY better pickers than boys :P

    Shae ♥

  11. Barbara says:

    Bonjour Nanette,
    Superbe reportage, et très belles photos. Que de souvenirs pour moi aussi.
    Je récoltais les pommes de terre avec mes grands-parents en Alsace(France). Ily a bien longtemps de cela, mais les souvenirs revivent avec vos belles photos. Encore merci.

    • Nanette says:

      Dear Barbara, Thank you for your lovely comment! I am happy you enjoyed the photos and that they brought back special memories for you! I have so many memories of harvest myself! Thanks too for following along on Louise’s and my blog!
      Nanette

  12. Elizabeth Martinez says:

    I ran across your article by a friend on FB. I too picked potatoes in Northern Maine 3 years while my dad was stationed at Loring. Those pictures are amazing. Brings tears to my eyes of a time gone by that I wish I could relive. Thanks you.

  13. Chuck says:

    I was born and raised in Fort, I went into the field at age 7 and left when I got out of college at 22. This brings back MANY memories!!

  14. Dawn Brooker white says:

    Thank you for sharing this! You brought back some great memories. Beautifully said and beautiful pictures

  15. Dear Nanette, Thankyou so much for the wonderful pictures of potato harvest in Maine I was born and raised in Limestone,Me. I remember very well my potato picking days as a child and teen. Hard work and long hoursbu we also managed to have fun also. I remember the sound of the digger and harvester when trying to fall asleep at night. Cold wet hands when there was frost on the rows and the smell of the fresh soil being turned over. My fav. day of the week was on Saturday afternoon when mom and dad would bring me and my brothers and sister a pop and treat out in the field after they would come back from their weekly trip at the grocery store. We made enough money to by school supplies, school clothes, and Christmas presents. Loved your pictures!

  16. Diane says:

    Thanks for the nice story of potato harvest. I grew up in the county. We are here in Alaska for 43 years now and just harvested our small potato garden……just 20 pounds of Yukon Golds. No barrels necessary. Potatoes grow fairly well here though for the farmers….the soil is rich and days are long in summer.

  17. Jeanne (Craig) Lothrop says:

    Thank you, Nanette, for your story and photos. Brought back such great memories. I, too, was born and raised in “The County”. My Dad was a potato farmer, so I spent several years of working during the harvest. Yes, it was hard work, but as you said, there was something very special about it and I couldn’t wait for harvest to start, but I, also, was very happy when the harvest was over. All the things you mentioned, I could so identify with and also the photos. Even the picture of Mr. Webb reminded me of my Dad. Thank you so much for sharing the story and the pictures. I really enjoyed both!
    Jeanne (Craig) Lothrop in Brunswick, ME

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