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Presque Isle: The Star City

Harvesting Potatoes

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Softwood potato barrel, Hodgdon, ca. 1950
Softwood potato barrel, Hodgdon, ca. 1950Southern Aroostook Agricultural Museum
Potato picker's tickets, ca. 1910
Potato picker's tickets, ca. 1910Presque Isle Historical Society

Up until the 1970s when farms became more automated, farmers in Aroostook County used barrels to move potatoes from the field to storage. Other areas of the country used bags or baskets to do this. A barrel is about 19 inches (48 cm) in diameter across the top and about 30 inches (76 cm) high. The staves are made of cedar. Around 1960, a farmer could purchase a barrel locally for $4.

After the barrel is full, the picker would put a ticket in the barrel rim. The barrel loaders would collect the tickets so that the farmer could keep track of the number of barrels picked by each picker.

In the horse-drawn digger days of the early 1900s a potato picker could earn 2 or 3 cents for each full barrel. Around 1940 the picker would earn 12 cents per barrel and in 1950 the picker earned 20 cents per barrel. In 1960 a picker was paid around 25 cents per full barrel. It wasn't until around 1980 that potato pickers could earn a dollar per barrel.

Most pickers could fill 20 to 40 barrels per day. Conditions such as a rocky or weedy field or digger break downs could hinder the amount of barrels filled. If conditions are good, though, some potato pickers could fill 100 or more barrels per day