A season-long project to call attention to the significance of The County’s agricultural industry and signature crop, as well as to combat food insecurity in the region, highlight the artistic talent of Aroostook residents, and celebrate the 50th anniversary of Aroostook County’s most comprehensive provider of social services kicked off today in a roadside potato field in St. John Plantation.
Children enrolled in Aroostook County Action Program’s (ACAP) Fort Kent Head Start Program planted potatoes at the base of a sign they unveiled for the adjacent ACAP 50th Anniversary Potato Plot on Route 161 in St. John Plantation. At the end of the growing season, bounty from the crop, which the children and others in the community will help harvest the old-fashioned way, by hand, will be donated across the region to those in need.
“For five decades, our agency has helped make life better for families and individuals across The County. One of the many areas in which we support our customers is by connecting them with resources to ensure they have enough to eat,” said Jason Parent, ACAP Executive Director/CEO. “Through this project, we are calling attention to our ‘roots,’ the significance of the agricultural industry in our region, the critical role of farmers in keeping people across our county (and beyond) fed, and the essential work of the many volunteers who help ensure people have enough to eat. The harvested potatoes will be provided to the food pantries and community cupboards across the region to reach people who turn to them.”
The event also served as the launch for a County-wide art design contest for a special commemorative five-pound potato bag. Details of the art contest and plans for the old-fashioned hand harvesting of the ACAP 50th Anniversary Potato Plot this fall were also announced.
The initiative is a collaborative of ACAP, G. B. and D. Pelletier Farms of Fort Kent and Northeast Packaging Company (NEPCO) in Presque Isle/Caribou. The Pelletier Family, who owns and farms the land the designated potato plot sits on, is donating the field of the Dark Red Norland potatoes grown in it this summer.
“We are excited to be collaborating with ACAP and NEPCO to help relieve food insecurity in The County, and proud to have the Head For their part, NEPCO is donating the production run of the specially designed ACAP 50th Anniversary five pound bags that will hold the potatoes that will be given to volunteer-supported County food pantries, and stocked in community cupboards region-wide this fall.
“At Northeast Packaging Company we pride ourselves in our customer service with the local farmers here in Aroostook County and helping the people of the community. Getting local children involved in an agricultural project helps instill them with work ethic and gain knowledge of what our local farmers do throughout the growing process,” said Domenic Bua, NEPCO Sales Manager. “We are pleased to be partners on this project and to support both the local community and ACAP as it celebrates its 50th Anniversary.”
NEPCO and ACAP representatives shared details of the design (artwork) contest for the special bag, which is open to County residents of all ages, and will run through July 1, 2022. Individuals submitting designs for the potato bag should creatively capture, in a general sense, both Aroostook County Potato farming and ACAP’s 50 years of service to the region.
The design should be done in no more than four colors, be portrait in orientation with a maximum size of fourteen inches by seventeen inches. A complete list of guidelines, more information on the project, and the link to submit entries on-line can be found at https://acap-me.org/potato-bag-contest/.
The winner of the design contest will be selected by members of ACAP’s Community Development Committee and representatives from the two project partners, G. B. D. Pelletier Farms and NEPCO. The winning design will be unveiled, and selected artist announced, at the Maine Potato Blossom Festival on Saturday, July 16, 2022 at 1:00 p.m. on the parade reviewing stand on Main Street in Fort Fairfield.
Among those supporting the ACAP 50th Anniversary Potato Plot is a top national leader who knows firsthand the critical importance of the agriculture industry in Maine from the ground up. Aroostook County’s own Senator Susan Collins credits her work ethic with the lessons she learned picking potatoes while on harvest break attending Caribou High School. The Senator’s State Office Representative Trisha House attended the ceremonial planting event and shared her sentiments.
“It is a pleasure to congratulate Aroostook County Action Program for 50 years of providing critical services that empower and improve the lives of your neighbors in need,” said Senator Collins. “There is no better way to celebrate ACAP’s landmark birthday than with the planting of the ACAP 50th Anniversary Potato Plot. With the crop to be donated to local food pantries and community cupboards, this exciting project will help to address the challenge of food insecurity as it honors Aroostook County’s agricultural heritage.”
In addition to her remarks, an announcement was made at the event that Senator Collins will honor the collaborative efforts by ensuring the custom bagged potatoes make it to the White House in Washington D.C. After they are harvested, the County native will deliver spuds to the chef at the Executive Mansion.
The next opportunity for community members to engage in the project is tentatively (weather and crop dependent) set to coincide with Fort Kent’s Annual Scarecrow Festival this fall. On Friday, September 16, as part of the kickoff for the festivities, community members, area school children, ACAP Early Care and Education preschoolers, and agency-wide staff and volunteers will be invited to take part in hand harvesting the potatoes and helping to bag them.