Rock Collections. Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. Circa 1998.
Wood Prairie Potato Harvest 2018 Rock Collection.
Deviation from our gray shale orthodoxy.
are so fundamental to the experience of growing potatoes in Maine that
we really couldn’t fault anyone for calling us a bit obsessive on the
subject. Rocks are certainly a subject we know quite
well. Years ago, one fellow explained to us that over the
eons, twenty glaciers have made their way through Northern Maine
each one bringing rocks foreign and divergent from our shale bed
rock. We, and those who have come before us, have enjoyed long
careers of moving rocks out of the way so we can grow potatoes.
dozen years ago we cleared off the re-growth of trees from one
four-acre field which had been abandoned many decades ago. Counting the
tree rings on the stumps left behind from felling the biggest trees
revealed those trees had gotten their start a mere twenty
years after the field had been first cleared by the pioneers a century ago
. For a short while it baffled us why after so much effort at clearing they had surrendered the field back to the woods.
long, we had cleared all the trees and then all the stumps.
Working the rich soil with farm equipment revealed quickly what had
been the not-so-mysterious reason for abandonment. The amount of rocks in this field left behind by glaciers was enough to make one faint.
It clearly was enough to have caused the pioneers to lose heart and give up on this field.
an almost religious zeal we tackled our rocks. We used tractors,
mechanical rock hogs and rockpickers, and a dumptruck to haul the rocks
out of that field. By the time we finished rockpicking we had
taken over 700 yards of rocks
from off those four acres.
One neighbor who would drive our ten-yard dump truck alongside our side-boom rockpicker proudly proclaimed he had now worked on the two rockiest farms in town.
When pressed for the winner, he said our farm beat out that of an
old-timer’s farm near US Route 1 and north of Bridgewater Corner
. It’s always nice to be in first place, regardless of the
Not far from Bridgewater Corner, but on the ‘other side
of the line’ was the Emery Farm in the potato farming hamlet of
Centreville in New Brunswick, Canada. Terry Emery was our friend
for decades and was the organic farmer most near to Wood Prairie Family Farm.
Thinking back, it was about this time in the winter five or six years ago that Terry passed on.
parents, Ernie and Gladys were good farmers and had grown seed potatoes
- and back in the 1940s - ‘turnip’ seed (Rutabega). Terry
was quite a character. We always admired his reputation as a
farmer who “knew how to turn a dollar
” (make money at whatever he did).
day an earnest government official was conducting a survey and inquired
what crops Terry grew. In a serious deadpan tone Terry replied
and firmly, repeatedly maintained that he raised manure
Terry could be stubborn. The official was incredulous, and
complained his forms didn’t include a check off box for
“Manure.” Truth be told, besides manure, Terry raised beef
cattle and sheep and also apples, and of course, potatoes. He,
too, had a lifetime’s experience with rocks.
One time, Terry was
asked to serve as a volunteer stakeholder on a Provincial rural labor
council which met every month or two, hoping against hope to figure out
some way to create more jobs
for rural New Brunswick. Then, after a few years, the big
news came around that Jobs Canada was going to have a big national
labor council jamboree in Saskatoon. Council members from all
across Canada would meet to discuss weighty rural jobs issues.
Farmers don’t travel much, and Terry wasn’t about to pass up this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see the Canadian Prairies on the government’s dime
. So, he packed his bags and one fine, hot July day found himself plopped down in the flat Province of Saskatchewan.
customary inside meetings were supplemented by a field trip to a local
farm located not far from Saskatoon. The bus was met
by an older farmer, who like his neighbors made his living growing
Spring Wheat. An old red barn stood beside the farmer’s house
. Back in the days when farms were diversified, that barn had held cows and pigs and hay, but it was now empty.
pleasantries were exchanged, the farmer abruptly turned and made a
beeline to the barn with the busload of laboring Canadians in
tow. Once all were inside the barn, the farmer could no longer
contain himself. Beaming with pride and with a broad sweep of his
arms, he revealed to all his precious rock collection. This work of a lifetime
was his proudest achievement. In the Prairies rocks are few and
far between. One hundred rocks were carefully laid out on
pallets. Each one had been lovingly washed by hand and then
organized according to shape, size and color.
Terry smiled back and offered his ultimate farmer compliment, “Them’s awful nice
,” and said no more. Kind as always, Terry knew what happens in New Brunswick, stays in New Brunswick.