HOULTON, Maine — Trading in tutus and ballet slippers for work jeans and gloves, a group of young women from Gardiner have learned the time-honored tradition of picking potatoes by hand, thanks to a local farm.
For the past four years, dancers with the Rain Dance Production studio of Gardiner have journeyed more than 200 miles north to pick potatoes for Albert FItzpatrick at Fitzpatrick and Peabody Farms. Aside from being a solid team-building exercise, the event also serves as a fundraiser for the club.
Courtany Hanley, one of the instructors at Rain Dance Productions of Gardiner, said the dance troupe has traveled to Aroostook County for the past several years to pick potatoes which they then sell as a fundraiser. The company is for dancers ages 3-18 and older who are interested in taking classes in a variety of styles and performing for family and friends at local venues and/or competitions.
“Rita’s (sister of Albert and Tom Fitzpatrick) family owns the farm and they donate the potatoes for us to sell to help with competition fees,” Hanley said. “We usually compete two or three times a year, where we get to see other teams and share our love of dance with everyone.”
Jordan Snell was one of the dancers who came to the Shiretown to pick potatoes, marking the fourth time she has made the trip. But she also is no stranger to the area as her parents, Lisa and Bob Snell, are originally from Houlton.
“We make sure to bring a hat and some good gloves,” Snell said. “You have to come prepared to get dirty, because you can’t pick potatoes without getting dirty. It’s so much fun to come up here with the dance team.”
After picking their potatoes, the girls then help transport the spuds to the Fitzpatrick potato house, where they are weighed and bagged.
“The girls are always excited to come up here,” Hanley said. “When we first came up a few years ago, we thought it would be like strawberry picking where we would just pluck a few potatoes here and there. It is not like that at all. It’s a nice team-building experience for us and the girls seem to have a really fun time.”
The group pre-sells the potatoes and only pick enough to cover the allotted number of bags sold. Potatoes are sold for $3 for a 5-pound bag, with 100 percent of the proceeds benefiting the dance team. This year, the group sold 300 bags of potatoes.
“Once people hear these are Maine-grown, freshly hand-picked potatoes, they sell really quickly,” Hanley said.