October 7th, 2022
Volume 31 Issue 13
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!
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
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…
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
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,
Red Norland and Adirondack
Plus, we’re caught up on
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!
Jim & Megan Gerritsen & Family
Wood Prairie Family Farm
Over! Order Now for Best Selection!
Maine Tales. Potato
Economics 101. Easton, Maine. Circa 2012.
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
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.
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
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
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
Season with salt,
such as rosemary, dried tomatoes or crispy bacon.
Family Farm Photos.
‘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
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.
this photo, on the last day of digging our field crop of
Maine Certified Seed Potatoes
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
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
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.
Quick Links to
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