Honoring our potato growers, and having fun doing it

By Sen. Angus King | Jul 24, 2014

The Maine Potato Blossom Festival is a time-honored tradition in Aroostook County. First celebrated in 1937, Potato Blossom is one of Maine’s oldest festivals. From the parade to the mashed potato wrestling, the multi-day event in Fort Fairfield is a fun and fitting tribute to Maine potatoes and the hard-working farmers that grow them.

The festival takes place in mid-July to coincide with the appearance of the blossoms that lend the celebration its name. And while these colorful blossoms are a visible symbol of the yearly harvest, it is the deep-rooted dedication and determination of the farmers that ensure a bountiful crop.

There is certainly plenty to celebrate in Fort Fairfield this year, especially the many farming families who remain committed to growing nutritious Maine potatoes. A notable example is the Fitzpatrick family in Houlton, who were named this year’s Farm Family of the Year by the Maine Potato Board.

Patriarch, Albert Fitzpatrick, first started tending his 100 acres over 40 years ago, and now he tends 300 acres. This is thanks in large part to the untiring support of his wife Mary Beth, their children, and his mother Kathryn. But it’s also thanks to the memory of his father Fred, which inspires the farming legacy to continue throughout generations. Further, his daughter Erica studied agriculture at the University of Maine, and together the family focuses on soil conservation and responsible land stewardship.

The Fitzpatricks’ story is a true testament to the family-driven, sustainability-minded approach of Maine potato growers. Our farmers work hard to grow their crops in a responsible way with the long-term health of the land in mind. However, well-intended but poorly tailored environmental laws can sometimes make life difficult.

For example, laws like the Environmental Protection Agency’s “Spill Rule,” which imposes fuel storage requirements, place unnecessary regulatory burdens on our farmers. That’s why Senator Susan Collins and I worked with some of our colleagues in Washington to exempt small farms from that rule. And though the Potato Blossom Festival is not about this sort of legislative detail, the change is yet another reason to celebrate.

Senator Collins and I still continue to work hard on the inclusion of white potatoes in the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC). For too long, white potatoes have been the only fresh vegetable kept out of the program. This is a disservice to parents trying to find healthy food options for their children, and a disservice to Maine potato growers who produce a nutritious food source.

Though we’re not there yet, the fight continues. Indeed, thanks in large part to Senator Collins and her work on the Senate Appropriations Committee, we’re one step closer to getting fresh white potatoes into the WIC package.

So as our potato farmers continue to tend their fields, we continue to honor their tireless work. Our rich farming heritage has weaved together a tapestry of fields for generations, and we must do what we can to create a similarly-vibrant future for those generations yet to come.

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