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Friday, October 7th, 2022
Volume 31 Issue 13

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In This Issue of The Wood Prairie Seed Piece:

This edition of the Seed Piece may be found in our Wood Prairie Seed Piece Archives.

 Harvest is Over!

Wood Prairie’s Megan Appears on Potato Pickers Special.

     The other day Megan got up at 330am. Then by 4am she had arrived at her friend Sue McCrums’ house on West Ridge Road in Mars Hill. Traveling together they both landed into the WAGM-TV station just north of the Aroostook River in Presque Isle by 430 am, well ahead of the 5 am start time for this, the second-to-last-morning of this year’s 63rd Annual three-week-long televised Potato Pickers Special.

     Potato Pickers Special was somebody’s bright-idea and quickly became an Aroostook institution decades ago, back when many rural Maine families lacked telephones and Potato harvest was much more labor intensive. Aroostook Potato farmers needed a way to communicate with their crews. WAGM-TV (W [National Station East of the Mississippi] A[roostook] G[arden of] M[aine]) was the unusual pioneering rural radio signal which began broadcasting from Presque Isle in 1931. The television station was added later in 1956 as a CBS affiliate, and just a few years after that, Potato Pickers Special debuted.

     Gain insight on the pickers special by watching this view of Americana, a twenty-five year old fun feature Postcard segment by Maine humorist Tim Sample and host Charles Osgood on CBS Sunday Morning (6:29). As you will view, Potato Pickers Special allows local farmers to call in and leave curt messages to be read on-air for their anxious crews. In dizzying rapid fire succession, announcers would rifle through the tall stack of what in the old days were many hundreds of crew messages:

Pay attention now! Bradbury Brothers in Bridgewater, going on time; Kiersted Farms, up against green potatoes and NOT digging today; Elbridge Bouchard in Washburn is looking for work but he needs a ride, meet him after 530 am at the River Diner; O.K.Blackstone in Caribou has frozen ground. Eat an early dinner. Starting today at 10am. Bring an extra lunch cuz we’re digging late. Donald Fitzpatrick in Houlton needs a truck driver and two harvester workers, call him at 532-8754, Don’s going on-time; Crown Farms is going on time at 615, Tommy, I need you at 530; Grover Patterson is broke down and he’ll call the crew when he can go; Al Jewel says the busses for his hand pickers will be running an hour late today to let the ground warm up…

     In this week’s photograph above, Megan is sitting on the right. She is next to Sue McCrum, the President of the Maine AgriWomen group and matriarch of one of the largest potato farming operations in the State of Maine. At left, announcer and local TV star Shawn Cunningham kept the show running and read out the farmer messages. Over time, the number of potato farms has dwindled as farms have gotten larger and more highly mechanized. Some rural school districts – including ours - still to this day ever since the end of World War II, close for the three-week Potato Harvest Break so that students can work in the harvest.

     Our own Potato crop is now out of the ground and safely secured in our underground Potato Storage. We’ll be shipping our Organic Potatoes from our storage from now until the 4th of July. Here’s a Heads Up! We are certain to sell out of some varieties of our Organic Certified Seed Potatoes this year, so NOW is your very best time to order. If you tell us when you want us to ship your order, we’re happy to oblige.

     Also, now loaded onto the Wood Prairie website and ready-to-order are six kinds of delicious Organic Kitchen Potatoes for Cooks, including Caribe’, French Charlotte, Baltic Rose, Yukon Gold, Dark Red Norland and Adirondack Blue.

     Plus, we’re caught up on shipping Organic Red-Skinned Russian Garlic orders, and happily we do have a small amount left for sale. If you act fast you can order some of the world’s best hard-neck rocambole Garlic for Fall planting!

     Finally, responding to customer requests, we’ve whipped our computer into shape so that you will now automatically receive Tracking Updates by email once your shipped order has entered the transit-stream. Once you’ve gained the handle you desire on parcel-progress feel free to become friends with your Delete-button!

Thanks, stay safe and stay warm!


Caleb, Jim & Megan Gerritsen & Family
Wood Prairie Family Farm
Bridgewater, Maine



Harvest is Over! Order Now for Best Selection!


Maine Tales. Potato Economics 101. Easton, Maine. Circa 2012.

Arooostook County Potato Harvest.  Circa 1950s. Good Potato digging on Aroostook’s famous high & dry Caribou Loam. Aroostook pioneered the barrel harvest system which helped propel ‘The County’ in the first half of the 20th Century to its perch as America’s “Potato Empire.” In this era rows were universally dug with a “Potato Digger” and “Hand Pickers” would follow behind using Potato Baskets to fill the barrels and earn piece-rate wages. It was only in the 1960s that mammoth Potato Harvesters started to invade Potato country. That truck is an old-timer. But many Aroostook potato trucks of the era would only be driven one or two hundred miles per year. So frugal Aroostook famers would keep farm trucks humming to make ‘em last. The Barrel Hoist on the truck looks like it is the advanced hydraulically-powered-design which would lend credence to landing this photo into the 1950s. 

    A week or two back, a candidate from Florida running for Governor here in Maine spoke before a group of Maine farmers. Weren’t they surprised when he bad-mouthed Maine Potato farmers, calling them “unproductive.” On the other hand, maybe they weren’t too awful shocked because he’d just got done reaming out Maine’s Dairy farmers for "high milk prices" and being small and inefficient.

     Anyway, in Aroostook County it’s pretty well understood that insulting your neighbors is not the best way to make friends or win votes. What’s more, fact is, after growing Potatoes here for 200 years Aroostook farmers have figured out how to grow potatoes as well as anybody anywhere.

Passive Income

     A family friend up here grows potatoes on a pretty big scale. He sells his spuds to the local McCain’s French Fry plant up in Easton. About ten years ago our friend was telling us firsthand about the business of growing commodity potatoes. Over the intervening years, both the costs and the pay rate have crept upwards. However, the ratio of costs-to-income has remained roughly the same. And so, those numbers from a decade ago pretty fairly reflect the situation, now as it did in those days.

     Our farmer friend explained back then, that the typical yield for conventional Russet Burbank Potatoes would be three-hundred-thirty ‘sacks’ per acre (33,000 pounds). Potatoes made into French Fries have a 50% recovery rate. Meaning, that one acre of Potatoes would generate 16,500 pounds of French Fries. The retail value of French Fries was $6/lb. So that single acre of Potatoes would have generated retail sales of French Fries worth $99,000. Had all of that acre’s worth of French Fries been sold in restaurants located right here in the State of Maine, it would have brought in just shy of $7000 in tax revenues thanks to Maine’s 7% Meals Sales Tax. Without having lifted a finger that lucky State Treasurer would have a nice tidy sum to spend on salaries, support and improvements to our fair State.

Where's That Easy Money?

     Now, if you’re down at the Capitol in Augusta, it might seem like that $7000 revenue just appears like magic. But here in farm country where we sweat and toil, we know better. In order to grow those 330 sacks, the Maine Potato farmer must own a staggering amount of equipment, land and buildings. He must pay the banker, the insurance company, the fuel company and the taxing authorities, along with an army of local suppliers. To grow the crop the farmer must buy the seed, and the fertilizer, and the spray material.

     He must hire a crew to help plant the crop, tend the crop, harvest the crop, and pile the crop into storage. Eventually at odd times during the long Winter, the farmer - on short notice - must gather together a crew of neighbors to ‘rack over’ (grade) the potatoes. Deploying a small fleet of a half-dozen or more big ‘wheeler’ trucks, he must in rapid succession load the trucks and haul the potatoes - without freezing - to the Easton plant in a revolving-loop procession, all within the confines of the narrow delivery window dictated by the plant operator.

The Bottom Line

      For all the farming effort, for all the grief, for all the risk, for that single acre of spuds that Aroostook Potato farmer was rewarded the princely sum of $2300. That works out to less than $7/sack or 7 cents/pound.

      And that $2300 is a third of the $7000 the State of Maine hauled in just for sitting pretty.

      Is it likely we can really learn much about “productivity” from one lost politician who has yet to actually make anything during his lifetime besides hot air? Doesn’t seem too likely.

Caleb, Jim & Megan


Pan Fried Potatoes.

Thinly slice 1 1/2 pounds of potatoes such as Yukon Gold or Butte

Bring a pot of salted water to a boil and cook the potatoes until just cooked through and tender but not falling apart. Drain the potatoes and let dry and cool for a few minutes.

Heat 1/2 cup olive oil in a cast iron pan and add the potatoes when when oil is hot. Cook over medium heat, stirring and tossing regulary until golden, about 15 minutes.

Season with salt, fresh herbs such as rosemary, dried tomatoes or crispy bacon.



Wood Prairie Family Farm Photos.

“Mud ‘em In. Mud ‘em Out!” It was one wet Fall over 40 years ago when we first heard this crusty, well-worn weather observation muttered by an older and fully-determined Maine Potato farmer.  The expression references the observed weather pattern that a rainy Spring will often be followed by a wet Fall, classically with a dry Summer sandwiched in between.  So, Maine Potato farmers after having gone through tough planting from wet ground last Spring, kept tucked in back of mind the premonition that hard, muddy digging could be ahead for 'digging' this Fall.  Thankfully, while rain regularly interrupted early digging, Hurricane Ian missed us and the weather has transitioned to drier weather.  In this shot, following a four-day-break due to rain, we work to pull our Finnish 'Juko' Potato Harvester through a mud hole. At left, Caleb is crouching and attaching a special shock-absorbing red tow rope with a clevis to the drawbar of our Oliver 1850 Diesel. Similarly, Justin is bolting the other end to the Oliver 1750 pulling the Juko. Jim is driving the 1750. We had success getting unstuck on the second try.

Dark and Cloudy Potato Harvest Day on Wood Prairie Family Farm. We witnessed these ominous clouds, but the rain held off allowing us to get in a full day of digging.  While the crew continued our work of whittling down the number of Potato rows ahead waiting to be harvested, Caleb took out our Woods 84 Bushhog to chop down the final in-field Beneficial Insect Flower Bed, which otherwise would have become an obstacle to harvest.  Long blooming Cosmos, legume Hairy Vetch and bright Sunflowers were the species dominant during the last month.  As the temperatures have seasonally lowered, we observed a noticeable drop in the number of bees and Beneficial Insects which were frequenting the Flowers. Just one more sign that Winter is on the way in the State of Maine.

Winding Down the Wood Prairie Potato Harvest. In this photo, on the last day of digging our field crop of Organic Maine Certified Seed Potatoes, Caleb had just switched pallet boxes on the 'Juko' Harvester.  He is driving one of our Oliver 1650 Diesel tractors equipped with forks fashioned-over from an old forklift and positioned onto the Three-Point-Hitch.  Five Oliver iron "suitcase weights" - each weighing 110 pounds - are bolted to the front of the tractor to provide ballast to counter the rear weight of the 2400# hardwood pallet boxes full of Potatoes.  The burlap clamped to that new empty box on the Juko breaks the fall of Potatoes coming over the Secondary Bed, preventing them from getting bruised.  Onto each 'Field Run' pallet box is affixed numbered and color-coded 3x5 cards.  Pallet boxes are systematically logged-in and recorded from the tractor-seat and reference the exact row the Organic Potatoes were dug from, in order to fulfill rigid fraud-preventative 'Audit Trailing' requirements of the USDA National Organic Program.  Inventing good, tight audit-trail systems on the farm may take awhile to achieve trial-and-error refinement, but when truly well-designed they need not be burdensome or onerous. In the end the effort represents a reasonable exchange: we prove our Organic authenticity to customers like you, and in return we develop a market for superior Organic crops.  Organic crops which contribute to better human and environmental health.  It's Win-Win for everybody.

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Caleb & Jim & Megan Gerritsen
Wood Prairie Family Farm
49 Kinney Road
Bridgewater, Maine 04735
(207) 429 - 9765 / 207 (429) - 9682
Certified Organic From Farm to Mailbox