Potato Harvest

Dateline: 17 September 2015

Thanks to my Aunt Carolyn in Kennebunkport for sending me the above documentary movie. It's about harvesting potatoes in 1955 (three years before I was born) in the St. John Valley of New Brunswick, Canada. 

New Brunswick is a few short miles east of Fort Fairfield, Maine, where my maternal grandfather, Percy O. Philbrick was a potato farmer. There was no difference between harvesting potatoes in Canada and Maine back then. The potatoes were all picked by hand. I've written about this before, but to watch a 60 year old movie telling the story is something special.

Back in those days, in those rural areas, there were a great many small farms and agriculture (mostly potatoes) supported the local communities. What's more, people in the local communities supported agriculture by helping to bring the potatoes in. The schools shut down for two weeks because the children were needed for the harvest. 

Even my grandfather, at 71 years of age, and retired from farming, worked at helping on a neighboring farm to pick potatoes. This was in 1967. I know he picked potatoes because I have his journal for that year and he mentions it. I suspect my grandfather had helped with the potato harvest every year from the time he could walk and pick up a potato (three years old?).

I remember my grandfather had a flat bed truck just like shown in the movie (except his was red). And seeing the wooden potato barrels brings back some very early memories. I wrote about helping my grandfather repair potato barrels in the July 2010 Deliberate Agrarian Blogazine.

My other writings on this subject are....


Pam Baker said...

For me, watching that was like sitting down at the table with a thick slice of warm bread slathered with peanut butter or curling up in front of the fire in a fleece throw with a hot cup of cocoa.
I'm too young to have firsthand experience with Pathfinder shorts or newsreels but I love catching them on TCM and watching them gives me a serious case of the golden age syndrome.
I found the barrel hauler a nifty device. Did make me wonder why they didn't go the extra step. They had the taters on a conveyor belt of sorts. Seems like adding a catchment device would have been the logical addition.
That was such a pleasure to watch. Thank you and your dear aunt please!

Elizabeth L. Johnson said...

This was very, very special, Herrick!! I was born in '56. I had no such experience, until lately with my own potato plants. I loved seeing this, and had no idea how it was done, or used to be done. It was "community", relationships, helping others, agrarian!! I want to live like this; tight-knit, and away from industrialism. I know it is a hard way of life. So be it. Thanks so much!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Deerefarmer41 said...

What a fine film. Have always loved potato harvest time. Now at age 75, Am down to only two 70 ft. rows these days. One row red and one row whites. Put 215 lbs. of big spuds in storage and gave senior food bank about 80 lbs. smaller spuds. Nothing is a meal with out potatoes. Thanks for showing this.

Herrick Kimball said...

For some perspective on potato harvesting between 1955 and 2015, check out a few minutes of this video...

Harvesting Potatoes in 2015

No community needed. No children allowed. The less workers the better.

And the many inefficient small farms have been absorbed by a few efficient and enormous industrial operators.

It is an example of industrial progress in all its false glory.

Very few people today see the tragedy in this.

Elizabeth L. Johnson said...

I understand, something as common as the need of food used to keep us together for an agrarian lifestyle. In that situation you depend on the weather, so you look to the Lord of the weather, and you have to know your neighbors, and depend on their help. Life was slower and relationship to God and friend were high priority. That's why extended family lived in your area--you all helped each other, and prayed for each other, and attended church together. Local control. I see the beautiful, big picture it was.

Susan Humeston said...

I'm with everybody else here - watching that made me remember when I was small and the way the world was then. I was born in 1956 and I remember, even though we were not farmers, my uncle was in upstate NY (in the Frankfort area). It was a slower, friendlier world. Even shopping was different - stores had many sales clerks to help. There wasn't nearly the choice there is now, and there didn't need to be. The tables in the store held everything necessary and luxuries, too. It was a better time to be alive, I'm convinced. The contrast between the two films was unbelievable - machines, machines, machines today. Ugh!! Soon robots will replace people at fast food places, and more will be out of work.

Anonymous said...

Alone In the Wilderness is another film that evokes the love of nature. Alaska and Solitude and Frozen North all are wonderful. I thing the readers here would love any of the 3. A older gentleman goes off and lives in the wilderness. It really makes my day everytime I see it. The mans name was Dick, I believe. I imagine there would be clips on Youtube. We own the movies. I think they were $20 each.


Tucanae Services said...

Funny you should mention 'potato recess'. Herrick I am only a year older than you and I can remember down in Florida that if the orange crop was coming in late that year many areas of the state would delay school openings so the kids could bring in the fruits.

Alas no more. Between migrant labor and the citrus canker that is a thing of the dim past.

Regina in TX said...


Have you heard about Jason Brown, the NFL farmer? You will love this! Check it out.


Nick L said...

Thanks Herrick,

I really enjoyed that, especially since I am reading a book about market gardening here in Brooklyn NY in the 1800's and how they paid people at potato harvest time, and how they paid children to go into the fields to squash bugs.

It's nice to know I'm not the only one who finds this enjoyable to watch, reminds me of the potato farms of Long Island when I was a little boy.

Thanks Regina I liked that video too!

Nick L