It’s potato harvest time, and on the All Good Blog we’re celebrating both the season and a little bit of our hometown history.
Up until recently, in farming communities across New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island, the kids started their school year in August. Why? Because when it was time for the potato harvest, schools would close and kids would participate in an elbow grease-fuelled tradition – the potato break!
There was a time when potato harvesting required a lot of hands-on work. Each worker would have a basket to fill with potatoes that had been unearthed mechanically. The worker would examine the potatoes and make sure they were fit to eat. Once their basket was full they would empty it into a barrel they would tag (this made sure they’d get paid when the time came).
Potato harvest meant spending time together as a family – kids as young as 5 could still help out (and found it pretty fun). Although sometimes having lots of siblings around meant the adults would have to break up a potato fight or two. Those who didn’t go out into the potato fields could offer their babysitting services for the very young local kids.
We’re not kidding when we say this was some seriously hard work. Harvesting potatoes required a lot of bending, kneeling, and lugging heavy potato baskets around, often in chilly fall conditions. And yet folks remember the fun times they would spend with their family and friends – not to mention the potato money they’d have to buy their new winter clothes.
As technology improved, potato harvesting required less hands-on work, especially when mechanical harvesters were brought in. This changed the tone of potato break, since workers now had to be at least 16 years old to operate the machinery and there were a lot more safety regulations to consider.
While potato break has come to an end in New Brunswick, folks still look back on it fondly. Some of our Facebook fans chimed in with their memories:
“I started picking in 1959 when I was 9 and could not even lift the basket. I picked until 1965 when I went to work on the harvesters. I can remember the women wearing kerchiefs to keep the dust out of their hair. My neighbour could pick 100 barrels a day. My record was 72!” – Valerie B
“I remember so well! I have wonderful memories. We had more fun and we worked with family and friends. Used to have to wait for the digger and we had a blast telling stories and stuff with no interference from techno gadgets like phones and games… yes we worked, but we also spent time with the ones we love!” – Patricia M
“I remember Stompin’ Tom’s song ‘Bud the Spud’ on the radio every morning” – Lila D
“I remember it so fondly, it was my goal to be old enough to move up to the harvester!” – Vavielle S
“I loved every day I had of picking potatoes. Started in grade 2, it was a blast! Might not have made a lot of money when I was in grade 2, but had fun. Those were good old days.” - Lynn S
Were you a potato picker? We’d love to hear your story as well! Let us know about your potato break days in the comments.