In the late 1950s when the photographer visited Aroostook County in northeastern Maine, its potato production was still the strongest in the US, with annual yields above 60 million bushels. The industry has its roots in the 19th century, when white settlers arrived and quickly discovered that a suite of factors favored this crop: light, fertile, alkaline soil, rainfall above 40” a year, and cool temperatures.
Within a century, farmers had cleared vast swaths of forest for potato cultivation, mechanized equipment had streamlined the work, and railroads had arrived in the region to move the commodity to a national market. Ruohomaa captured the fall harvest, which (then as now) was a cultural mainstay to the extent that schools closed their doors for 2-3 weeks so that students could work in the fields. Though gas-powered digging equipment performed the heaviest work, the crop required an enormous input of manual labor for picking, both local and transient.Browse Images