Maine Family Honored by State Potato Board

Published online: Jun 25, 2018 Articles
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Source: Mainbiz

The Maine Potato Board named the Donald Fitzpatrick family of Houlton, Maine, as the 2018 Farm Family of the Year.

Fitzpatrick has been growing potatoes for 66 years and is credited with innovations to minimize the impact on the soil and the environment, including creation of the first certified compost operation in Maine and receiving organic certification for parts of his acreage of grain and potatoes.

Twenty-five years ago, Donald's father Anthony was recognized as Farmer of the Year.

"My family and I are honored to represent our potato industries' many farm families. It is my pleasure to accept and to share this recognition with Dorothy and all our family," Fitzpatrick said in a news release.

"Donald Fitzpatrick and his family are very appropriate representatives of our Maine potato industry," said Donald Flannery, executive director of the Maine Potato Board. "We will enjoy sharing this recognition with him."

Fitzpatrick planted his first crop as a freshman in high school, starting on six acres. That fall potatoes were $5 a barrel, according to the Maine Potato Board. He held out for more money and ended up taking a big loss, selling at $1 a barrel, with some of his crop going to a starch factory at 50 cents a barrel. A high school friend planted a similar plot and sold his crop at the peak, at $5 a barrel, and bought a new car. Fitzpatrick bought an old pickup — and learned a lesson, according to the news release.

In the early 1980s, Fitzpatrick began to take soil conservation seriously by implementing various practices to improve his soils and increase crop yields, according to the potato board. He planted a winter cover of oats, spreading hay to reduce soil erosion, established grassed waterways and working toward a three-year rotation on most of his acreage. He was the first grower in Aroostook County to use a technique known as the one-pass hiller, which saves fuel, causes less root damage and reduces soil compaction. He has dedicated some of his acreage for organic grain and potato production, certified through MOFGA, or Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association.

Today, four generations of Fitzpatricks have worked on the farm, including son Toby, who is involved in operations, and Chris, who works on the farm part-time, as a second job. He and his wife Dorothy, who also grew up on a farm, have been married 60 years.

She was advised when they married, "'Don't start milking the cow, because you'll always have to.' Lucky for me, we had no cows," she said.

Fitzpatrick has served on the county committee with the Farm Service Agency and served on the board of directors for the Southern Aroostook Soil and Water Conservation District for more than 20 years. In 2008 he was presented with the Lifetime Conservation Farmer award.