SAD 1 students enjoy final year of harvest break work at school farm

6 years ago

PRESQUE ISLE, Maine — For the 12 students currently working at the SAD 1 School Farm, this season marks the final year they will be able to contribute to the farm’s annual harvest crops.

After the SAD 1 school board voted to eliminate the three-week harvest break beginning next year, John Hoffses, school farm manager, reduced the number of student harvest workers hired from 50 to 12 to provide a smoother transition for when no students are available.

“On average we would get around 40 students who worked here during harvest,” Hoffses said.

The farm is in the midst of the growing season, with students actively picking fresh apples from the 14-acre orchid, which contains 2,900 trees. They then produce apple cider, pies and other products that are sold to local grocery stores and restaurants and used as part of the SAD 1 school lunch program.

Many students remember their parents telling stories about working during the potato harvest while in high school and said they consider farm work to be an important tradition for Aroostook County students, one that they will miss.

“I feel like getting rid of harvest break is like getting rid of The County’s identity,” said 16-year-old Abby Harper, who has worked at the school farm during the last three harvest breaks. “It gives students a taste of what a real job is like and teaches them how to get up early in the morning and work hard at their job.”

Students Kalie Thompson (far left), Ben Duprey, Kamryn Gilmour and Sadie Lapointe pick apples at the SAD 1 School Farm on Thursday, Sept. 27. Due to the SAD 1 school board’s decision to eliminate the three-week harvest break, this year marks the final season in which high school students can work at the farm during the growing season.
(Staff Photo/Melissa Lizotte)

“I don’t think I’ll be able to work here next year because my [school] schedule is very busy,” she added.

Although the school board previously discussed possible alternatives to harvest break, such as a two-week, district-wide break or an academic credit program where students have permission to work the harvest during a traditional school year, those ideas have not gone beyond initial conversations.

Hoffses said that even though the loss of student workers will have a negative impact on his harvest workforce, he hopes to recruit adult workers next year to fill the need. To combat the shortage of current students, the farm is offering a “U-Pick” special in which community members can pick their own apples to buy as the various apple varieties become available.

He noted that interested students will still be able to work at the 38-acre farm, which also harvests potatoes, squash and other fruit and vegetable crops, after school and on the weekends during the school year.

“For many students working here during harvest is their first job,” Hoffses said. “Not having them here will definitely present challenges when harvesting a crop.”

Like Harper, students Kamryn Gilmour, 17, and Sadie Lapointe, 14, were disappointed about the elimination of harvest break and said that working at the school farm has allowed them to make long-lasting memories with friends and learn important work skills. Both plan to still work at the farm during next year’s traditional school calendar.

“I’ve been able to learn how to make apple cider and pies, which I think teaches you a lot about hard work and dedication,” Gilmour said.

Lapointe agreed. “I’ve enjoyed working here and I definitely want to continue,” she said.

The SAD 1 Farm Store is open Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and on Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.