Monday, June 13, 2011

Maine Is More Than Lighthouses by Nina Pierce

Celebrate New England Giveaway, Post #5. Leave a comment and enter to win!

Maine is More than Lighthouses
Guest Post – Nina Pierce
With only brief stints for college and new jobs, I’ve lived in Maine my whole life, the last twenty-two of them in northern Maine. I love Maine. It’s a beautiful part of New England.

When people think of Maine they think of pristine beaches, lobster and rugged coastlands. And with miles and miles of rocky shores, it’s no wonder that the lighthouse image has become synonymous with Maine’s Vacationland state motto.

But the northern 1/3 of Maine seeks to change that stereotype. Why? Because they live in potato country. That’s right, the spuds you get at the grocery store could have been grown and harvested in Maine.

Not having grown up in a farming community it was a definite culture shock when I first moved five hours from my home near the beaches (Maine is a bi-i-ig state) to the Canadian border. First, the school year began in mid-August and closed for three weeks from mid-September to early October. This allowed everyone in town to work harvesting the crop of potatoes by hand. And I do mean everyone. Anything not related to the potato industry, floral shops, hairdressers, anything like that, closed for the better part of three weeks. 

While we lived there, mechanical harvesters took over as the primary harvesting technique and fewer adults worked and only students 16 and older could work on the equipment. Schools eventually changed to closing the high schools since only those students could work and all businesses remained open.

I had the good fortune of working the three week harvest for a friend who was a farmer. Though I primarily worked in the potato house separating rocks from the potatoes on a conveyor belt before they went into bins for storage, I also worked several days in the field on the harvester. It’s loud and dirty and backbreaking. Rocks and plant stalks are separated by hand as a conveyor of potatoes bumps by on their way to the loading truck.

It’s a loooong day as well. Up at 5 am to be in the field by 6 where you work until 7 pm, 7 days a week drizzle or sun until the potatoes were out of the ground and stored for shipment in early winter and spring. 

So the next time you think of Maine, remember the northern part of the state, where there are no ocean breezes and lighthouses, but plenty of green fields of potatoes and hardworking kids helping to get them out of the ground and on to your table!

From Penny: Nina, Thanks so much for this fascinating piece! Maine has such a special place in my heart. 

Nina Pierce
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