Don’t blink, they may be gone

15 years ago

By Karen Donato
Staff Writer

    Every day we drive up and down the roads of Aroostook County from spring to fall noticing the farmers out in their fields plowing up that good earth, some of it called Caribou loam, the really rich kind.
ImageHoulton Pioneer Times File Photo
BLANKET OF BLOSSOMS — These rolling fields of potato blossoms may someday disappear from the Aroostook County landscape. This farm is located in East Hodgdon on the Catalina Road.

    Then we see the planters putting the seed into the ground and it’s not long before we notice those little green potato plants poking their heads up through those straight rows crisscrossing the fields.
    During the month of July and into August we gaze at those beautiful rolling hills of potato blossoms that seem to stretch for miles. It is especially beautiful if the field is purple.
    But in a blink of an eye they may be gone.
    Steve Berry is not from here, but he is learning first-hand about the dilemma of the Aroostook County farmer. Berry was a retired salesman from Vermont. He had spent more than 20 years selling the aerial photos for Champion Airviews of farms from Utica, N.Y. to Bangor, before it went out of business in 2006.
    You may even have an aerial photo hanging on a wall in your house. I do. Mine was taken in the early ‘60s.
    A few years ago Berry learned that rival company, State Aerial Farm Statistics had at least 25 million rolls of film in storage out in Toledo, Ohio. Berry was able to convince the owner to hire him to research the history of the farms and compile irreplaceable information and personal stories in order to publish a book.
    Berry knows that if he doesn’t capture this piece of history it may be lost forever. He was born in Maine but had been living in Vermont for the last 31 years. Berry decided to work on three counties in Vermont first, after completing those identifications he moved on to Maine, slowly making his way to Aroostook County.
    Upon his arrival he checked in with the Maine State Police and the Border Patrol to tell them about his project and that he would be in the area canvassing the back roads, but even though he made his presence known he received a speeding ticket for $119 by not slowing down coming into one of the small towns between Houlton and Presque Isle.
    “Oh well, says Berry, “Welcome to the County.”
    He secured living accommodations in Presque Isle and after the first day or so on the road discovered that the bulk of film he had was located from Bridgewater south to Hodgdon and out to Island Falls. It covered the side roads from Route 1 to the Canadian border and the side roads to the west.
    Berry also discovered through his travels that the farther north of Bangor he went the more intact the farms still were. In the southern part of the state due to urban sprawl, farms have turned into parking lots, malls and housing developments.
ImageImageContributed Photo
BYRON FARM — This Linneus farm was owned in the early to mid-1900s by Stearl and Carrie Byron. It is now the home of Rhonda and Steve Adams. In the photo at right are Adams, left, and Steve Berry.

    Even though his work was concentrated south of Presque Isle he chose to stay there traveling up and down Route One morning and night learning more and more each day and becoming more familiar with the communities and their people.
    Here in the county, he finds that a house or a barn may be gone because of a fire or disrepair, but often the house has been replaced and some of the out buildings are still standing. Sometimes it is still owned by  the offspring of the original owner.
    Berry says the stories are great, but it is sad to see that 60-70 percent of the barns are gone and on the Town Line Road in Smyrna Mills and Merrill to Route 11 the farm buildings are all gone.
    Berry has met thousands of people and eats up the information that they share with him and has even come across a Sears and Roebuck barn.
    Although he is excited about this he has also been rudely awakened to the fact the Aroostook County farmer is disappearing faster than you can blink an eye.
    In the ‘60s there were 450 farmers up and down this corridor, today there are less than 25. At one farm in Linneus the farmer shared this information with Berry.
    The third generation farmer said that in the 1920s his grandfather was getting on average $2.50 a barrel. To produce that barrel was about .50 so the profit was $2.
    Today a Littleton farmer quoted this information.
    In 2008 he averaged 33,000 pounds of potatoes per acre. He sold those potatoes to a processor and grossed six and a half cents per pound or $2,145 an acre. It cost approximately $2,300 to produce that acre, therefore he lost $155 per acre.
    The processor took the 33,000 pounds of potatoes and turned them into 16,500 pounds of French fries. Each pound makes six serving of fries and the retailer sold those servings for $1 each or $99,000 per acre of the farmer’s potatoes. The state charges $.07 sales tax on each dollar, receiving $6,930 from that same acre of potatoes.
    So just like that, in the blink of an eye, the Aroostook County farmer may be gone and the next time you pick up a potato in the grocery store it just may say Made in China. And instead of those beautiful fields looking like a carpet it more than likely will be fields of grass and weeds.
    Berry is nearly done his identification of more than 25 rolls of film and he has also been able to glean some of the background information here in this area. If you have any information that you would like to share about any area farms, contact Berry at 802-279-0519 or e-mail He will be looking for volunteers that would like to gather more history for the photos.
    “Berry says every picture has a story behind it.”
    He plans to do a 500-page hardcover book that will be sold nationwide. Each county will have its own book.
    Berry will also have a blog, thanks to his 16-year-old grandson, Cody Haskins. His granddaughter, K.C. McNaulty is scanning the recorded information to be uploaded to the blog and individuals can research and add more information online. Once the farm identification is complete and the history gathered there will be a first edition printed, then a second printing in the future with more thorough information included. This will make a great reference book for future use.