Jim Gerritsen “Breaking Ground”

This story appeared in the 2021 spring issue of The Maine Organic Farmer & Gardener in response to the theme, “Breaking Ground.”

“That’s not the way we do things in Aroostook” was an expression I heard my share of times in the early years. In search of good soil to farm, I’d moved to the promised land of Aroostook County, Maine, in 1976. I was 21 years old and acted on a hunch ­– I’d never been to Maine or even met a Mainer.

Evidently, my organic inclinations and peculiarities were perceived sufficiently odd so as to elicit frank commentary from good Aroostook people who customarily are diehard adherents to Maine’s “live and let live” golden rule.

As we set about farming we developed a work-hard-and-keep-your-head-down tact and moved ahead doing what we felt needed to be done to build up our soil and grow good organic crops.

Experience taught us we could grow organic potatoes in Aroostook. By the late 1980s we had invented a unique means of selling potatoes: We would focus on growing organic Maine Certified Seed Potatoes and sell them directly to farmers and gardeners with a mail order catalog. Of course, those were the days before cell phones and the internet. Years later we added a transactional website to our catalog.

It was also many years later that a local farmer spilled the beans on a secret we had not been privy to. Three years of our four-year crop rotation, our potato fields are hidden by woods and not visible from our house. It turns out that during Aroostook’s late blight epidemic of the early 1990s, unbeknownst to us, local potato farmers were making weekly pilgrimages to our potato fields on Saturday evenings. Parading slowly by in their pickup trucks, farmers were marveling at the health of our potatoes in light of the fact that they were spending a king’s ransom on hot fungicides while we were not.

In Aroostook County, respect is earned from works. We all tend to get carried away with words.

Jim Gerritsen

Bridgewater, Maine

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