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District Reinstates Potato Harvest Break, Superintendent Resigns

Robert F. Bukaty
Associated Press/file
On Sept. 24, 2014, high school students, clockwise from lower left, Adam Paterson, 15, Brendan Hammond, 16, Andrew Paterson, 17, and Malerie Buck, 16, enjoy some down time during a 12-hour work-day at the Buck Farm potato storage facility in Mapleton, ME.

The school district that includes Presque Isle High School will reinstate its potato harvest break.

The district had planned to cancel the three-week autumn break effective this fall. School board members heard from parents and school officials that the break for students in grades 9-12 interrupts learning, costs extra money and creates child care issues.

But after a community outcry, the school board voted 12-2 to keep the break going.

Lynwood Winslow, manager of Maine Potato Growers, Inc., a grower’s cooperative based in Presque Isle, says he grew up working the harvest and it’s a valuable tradition for kids.

“Most of us grew up in that environment where we worked for some pay, we learned some lessons in life, and it gave us money to buy school clothes and things, and I’m not sure if they give it enough credit but a lot of the kids still do that,” he says.

Winslow says it’s also vital for the industry.

“Potato farming in Aroostook County is a very seasonal industry with very seasonal windows, and the window of the potato harvest has a need for seasonal help for three weeks. And the workers just aren’t there in the regular workforce,” he says. “Our industry is the heart of this economy, and all the money these farmers earn and spend, and a lot of the money these kids earn and spend in this seasonal work, will be spent several times over in this community.”

Potatoes accounted for about 28 percent of the state’s agricultural sales in 2016, according to the Maine potato board. Most of those potatoes are grown in Aroostook County.

A recent district survey found that only about 15 percent of Presque Isle students took part in the harvest in 2017. The school year starts earlier for the grades that get the break to make up for the time missed.

The County reports that Superintendent Brian Carpenter resigned at the same meeting.

Originally published Jan. 17, 2019 at 1:34 p.m. ET.