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Tater Tot: 1940

Tater Tot: 1940

October 1940. "Near Caribou, Maine. The opening of school was delayed in sections of Aroostook County so children could help pick potatoes." Does this beat Introduction to Algebra? Photo by Jack Delano. View full size.


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Which Caribou farmer in 1940 had the initials F.E.P? On the barrels.

The ash baskets were handmade by Micmac and Maliseet Indians and were strung up in bulk for sale in front of farm and feed stores. They were used for one season and discarded as they usually didn't make it through more than one year. We used to sit on the handles to take a little break from picking.

That basket would cost you big bucks now as the few basket makers still working actually charge something close to what their work is worth. The few hand crews still working now use 5-gallon buckets.

Most potatoes are harvested mechanically. Sadly, I think only a few high schools and no grade schools still let out for harvest now.

Zoom Zoom

When I visited Aroostook county back in the 70s, I had to ask about the roofs on the ground in the fields. Turns out they were root cellars for potato storage with just the roof above grade. In the middle of winter when the fields were snow covered, young fellows like this guy used them for jumps for their snowmobiles. The farmer did not approve.

Tater tot totes tubers ...

to be tallied and transported to town by truck & trailer or by train, on Tuesday.

Still to this day

Many towns in "The County" (Aroostook County) still delay school during harvest season. There are some schools
& classes that are open earlier in the Autumn, but many of the school-aged kids pick potatoes until the first frost, then begin their classes.

Tater Tot

Totes tubers.

Aroostook County, Know it Well

That photo could have been taken at my father's family farm (have no idea if it was). My father grew up in Caribou, ME. on a potato farm.

We moved up there for about 3 years and my father bought a farm. When I was there, in the early 1970s, we had 3 weeks off from school around October so that families could pitch in and pick potatoes and earn extra money. There were a lot of folks up that way, back then, that didn't have a lot of money.

From what I've heard they still let the kids out of school for 3 weeks. However, I doubt many of the kids pick potatoes in the 21st Century because they hire workers from South America to work on the farms now.

Go for Algebra

I'd take Introduction to Algebra any day. Picking potatoes in backbreaking work. My late father-in-law had a half acre truck garden in Boise, Idaho, and there were a couple of rows of potatoes.

Still hanging in there

Maine's potato industry is still significant even if it's not quite what it used to be. At the time of this photo about 250,000 acres were devoted to potatoes, almost all in Aroostook County, and Maine led the country in production. After many years of decline, the potato acreage stabilized at around 60,000 acres in the 1990's and hasn't varied too much ever since.
Maine currently ranks fifth among the states in total potato production. Idaho is hugely dominant in first place, producing more than one-third of the country's potatoes on 350,000 acres. While there are some other factors, the biggest reason for Idaho's market dominance is that its soil and climate are especially good at producing the sort of large, evenly shaped potatoes most suitable for processing into french fries for the fast food industry.

Now Batting

For Lew Hine, number 44, Jack Delano.


At least the county recognized the situation and delayed school. Some 15 years earlier in northern California, my Mom and her siblings were kept home until the second crop of grapes were picked, while school went on without them.

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