BLAINE, Maine — This potato harvest, as she has for every one for about half of her life, Sydney Garrison of Blaine rises to the sound of her alarm clock at 5:30 a.m. so that she can be at work on her family farm one hour later.
The 14-year-old is just one of seven teenagers working on Double G Farms, Inc., the 1,500-acre agri-business run by Sydney’s grandfather Wayne Garrison and her father, Gregg Garrison. At a time when fewer youth are working during the harvest, the teenagers are bucking the trend, and as Gregg Garrison said in an interview late last week, “doing a fantastic job.”
“The teenagers I employ do everything from racking potatoes to picking out the rocks as part of the sorting process to unloading the trucks,” he said. “They are hard workers and I have a mixture of both family members and community members. A few have worked for me for several years.”
Logan Milliard, 16, of Blaine, who has spent two years working for Double G, said he grew comfortable around potato farms after having spent a great deal of time with his grandfather, Richard Porter, who had his own farm.
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Milliard said he was drawn to working the harvest due both to his upbringing and the financial incentives.
“I liked the idea of working hard for three weeks and knowing that you are going to see a financial reward,” he said. “I didn’t want to spend three weeks of break just sitting around. When I first started working on the farm, I racked potatoes, but now I unload trucks.”
He said he attends Central Aroostook High School in Mars Hill, where students throughout the district that serves Bridgewater, Blaine and Mars Hill get three weeks off at the end of September and beginning of October to work the harvest.
“I would say that students who don’t work during the harvest are missing out on some life lessons,” said Milliard.
According to December 2015 statistics released by Central Aroostook High School, 35 percent of seventh- through 12th-graders worked in harvest-related positions during last year’s break.
Michaela Pelletier, 16, of Mars Hill has spent two years working on the harvest, but this is her first year working for the Garrison family. She also attends CAHS.
“I am racking potatoes and really enjoying it,” she said. “Last year, I earned more than a $1,000, and I learned how to work with different people and the value of money at the same time.”
Like Sydney Garrison, 16-year-old Isabelle Wright of Blaine has worked for Double G Farms for seven years.
“Gregg is my uncle, so it was always tradition for the whole family to help with the harvest,” she explained. “Naturally, when I got old enough, I knew I would officially start working on the farm. I used to rack potatoes but now I work in the potato house, and on a good week with no rain I can put in 70 hours. It is hard work, but it is a great experience.”
The Garrisons are a vital part of the Maine potato industry. They sell their crop to McCain’s and Naturally Potatoes, and supply the potatoes for Fox Family Chips. They have been a McCain’s Top Grower four times. Gregg Garrison also was selected as the Maine Potato Board’s Young Farmer of the Year for 2009 and Wayne and Gregg Garrison were named Farm Family of the Year in 2013.
Schools from central Aroostook County north still adhere to some sort of harvest break to help farmers like the Garrisons get their crops in, according to information available from schools and calendars on their websites.
In the Presque Isle area, SAD 1 observes a three week harvest break for high school students, while SAD 33 in Frenchville takes three weeks off district wide. Schools in Van Buren and Madawaska take a two-week harvest break for all grades.
Students in nearby Fort Fairfield take two weeks off for middle and high school students while the nearby Easton Schools and SAD 45 in Washburn take three weeks off for all students.
Eastern Aroostook RSU in Caribou takes a district wide two week break.
Wright for one appreciates the break, indicating that during a typical harvest, she can make $2,000 or more. She puts the majority of the money she makes in the bank and the rest, she said, she “takes to Bangor and spends on a shopping spree.”
“I know that the tradition of youth working the harvest is disappearing, and I think that is sad,” she said. “There is a lot you can learn from farm life.”