Drive through Aroostook County in the summer, and you will see vast rows of potato plants getting ready for the annual harvest. When I was young, schools let out for three weeks every fall so that the kids could pick potatoes, throw them into baskets, and dump them into barrels. We got paid about 50 cents per barrel, if I remember correctly. One year, it rained so hard and the fields were so muddy, the farmer took pity on us and paid a dollar a barrel, because the picking was so difficult. I found this old picture of my friends and me taking a lunch break during a harvest in the early to mid 1980s. I’m pretty sure I’m drinking water out of a recycled milk jug.
This is the first year in the Houlton area that kids are not getting any harvest break, because modern technology has eliminated the need for manual picking and mechanical harvesters do most of the work. We still have a big potato industry, though, as farmers and distributors have changed with the times. Maine farmers supply much of the seed potatoes for the entire east coast, and sell quality potatoes to french fry and chip manufacturers, as well as grocery suppliers.
In celebration of the humble potato, Houlton is pulling out the stops this weekend with its 53rd Annual Potato Feast Days, presented by the Greater Houlton Chamber of Commerce. Attractions include the popular craft fair and quilt show, the Doll and Wagon Wrangler Parade, community market and sidewalk sales, and more. This year’s event will feature the 1st Annual Lobster Feast at 5:00 Friday in Monument Park. $18.00 a plate will get you a 1 1/4 lb. steamed lobster and butter, baked potato with toppings, corn on the cob, Houlton Farms Dairy Lemonade and chocolate chip cookies. Pay $26.00 and get two lobsters. If you don’t like lobster, hot dogs will be offered for $2. Check out more at the Chamber of Commerce’s Facebook Page.