In partnership with the Maine Memory Network Maine Memory Network

Presque Isle: The Star City

Potato Harvest Memories

Text by Isaac, a Presque Isle Middle School student
Images from the Presque Isle Historical Society by a private patron

Edwena, my grandmother, told me about working in the Central Aroostook County potato fields. Edwena has lived in The County all her life. She started work in the potato fields when she was about seven or eight years old. At that age she would pick about a barrel of potatoes a day, but as she got older she picked more. One day, at lunchtime, she and her bothers decided to roll down a hill in barrels. They did that because they had nothing else to do when they had eaten lunch. The next day they were sicker than dogs!

Edwena’s family worked for several different farmers throughout the years. The bigger the potato field, the longer it would take to pick the potatoes. The pickers would make about 25 to 30 cents for a barrel. Her family would use the money to buy clothes for school. If she was lucky, she might get a nickel to buy her favorite candy bar, a Milky Way.
For lunch she would bring a sandwich, such as a peanut butter, tuna, or egg salad. She also would bring chips, soda, a candy bar, and fruit. Edwena would bring her food in little plastic bags to the potato field that she was working in.

One hot day she was waiting for the digger man and the truck to go by. The “digger man” was the person who drove the machine that would dig up the potatoes. The potato truck had full and empty barrels on the back of it. When the truck went by Edwena never got a barrel. It was my grandfather, who was on the truck teasing her. Then, after that workday ended, he asked her to go on a date and she said yes. She left school her senior year of high school to marry him. She never went back to graduate.

In the spring, my grandmother, with other women and children would cut the seed potatoes in the potato house. The seeds were potatoes from the year before. The potatoes would be on a rack and as they went by, Edwena would cut them into four pieces. The men would take the full seed potato barrels, put them on the back of the potato truck, and bring them out to the field. The men would also plant the seeds.

Out in the fields there were no outhouses. If the workers had to use the bathroom, they would put barrels around themselves. They would have to go quickly because the digger man would start coming down that row to dig the potatoes out of the ground. They would have to move the barrels out of the way, too.

There was no playtime in the fields. Edwena could not play in the fields because she had to work, work, and work. The only time she could play was if the digger or harvester broke down. The workers would sing songs and play in the barrels. Edwena also had potato fights with her brothers and other kids. They would hide behind barrels and throw potatoes at each other. If they got caught they would get in trouble. Once one boy got hit in the eye.

One of the fields had trees around it. It would be really hot because there was no breeze that came through. She was not allowed to go into the woods, but Edwena did go and pick apples. One farmer’s wife would bring everybody ice cream cookies and something to drink.

That is how my grandmother, Edwena, spent her life in the potato fields in The County. There were good times in the potato fields and there were also bad times, too. But they always got though it.