Around New England

Maine School District Reinstates High School “Harvest Break” To Aid Farmers

January 18, 2019

The Presque Isle (ME) school district’s board of directors has voted 12-2 to reinstate a traditional autumn harvest break in the school year allowing students to help the region’s farmers with harvesting their crops. The break was canceled in 2017.

Citing a shortage of entry-level workers in the region, the board of directors reinstated the break in hopes high school students will be able to fill the labor shortfalls that hamper farm production, particularly on potato farms. Underage students will need parental permission before working on a farm.

County. me reports that Lynwood Winslow, who works for the Maine Potato Growers, Inc., in Aroostook County, spoke at public hearings in favor of the break.

“Even though there may be less kids working than there used to be and more mechanized technology available, there’s a vast shortage of qualified entry-level workers for farmers to choose from,” Winslow said. “In addition, farmers can’t always afford to invest in the latest technologies,” Winslow said.

County.me writes that the chair of the MSAD 1 board, Lucy Richard, who voted two years ago to discontinue the break but has since changed her mind, said the board needs to take into account the role the region’s agricultural businesses have in supporting their communities and schools.

“I get it when they [farmers] talk about the workforce,” Richard said. “We do have to support the agriculture in our community. I believe it teaches us a sense of community. I don’t know if kids would get that in a bigger city like Portland. […] I know […i]t’s also a financial thing. It’s more expensive for the district. In the end the farmers have a lot of land and pay a lot of taxes.”

The school district does pay “about $50,000 largely in additional busing costs for a split schedule, as high schoolers return to class three weeks early while elementary and middle school students start after Labor Day,” County.me reports.

County.me also reports a survey about the harvest break showed that in 2017, “14 percent of students worked potato harvest jobs during the break, while 8 percent worked at the SAD 1 educational farm and 35 percent worked in non-farm jobs.” 

The survey showed that about “43 percent of students did not work or engage in community service that year,” County.me writes.

 

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