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ACAP 50th Anniversary Potato Plot to help fight food insecurity, engage artists in bag design contest and invites community in at harvest

ST. JOHN PLANTATION — A season-long project to call attention to the significance of The County’s agricultural industry and signature  crop, as well as to combat food insecurity in the region, highlight the artistic talent of Aroostook residents, and celebrate the 50th anniversary of Aroostook County’s most comprehensive provider of social services  kicked off in a roadside potato field in St. John Plantation.

Children enrolled in Aroostook County Action Program’s Fort Kent Head Start Program planted potatoes at the base of a sign they unveiled for the adjacent ACAP 50th Anniversary Potato Plot on Route 16. At the end of the growing season, bounty from the crop, which the children and  others in the community will help harvest the old-fashioned way, by hand, will be donated across the region to those in need. 

“For five decades, our agency has helped make life better for families and individuals across The County. One of the many areas in which we support our customers is by connecting them with resources to ensure  they have enough to eat,” said Jason Parent, ACAP executive director/CEO. “Through this project, we are calling attention to our ‘roots,’ the significance of the agricultural industry in our region, the critical role of farmers in keeping people across our county (and beyond) fed, and the essential work of the many volunteers who help ensure people have enough to eat. The harvested potatoes will be provided to the food pantries and community cupboards across the region to reach people who turn to them.” 

The event also served as the launch for a County-wide art design contest for a special commemorative five pound potato bag. Details of the art contest and plans for the old-fashioned hand harvesting of the ACAP  50th Anniversary Potato Plot this fall were also announced. 

The initiative is a collaboration of ACAP, G. B. and D. Pelletier Farms of Fort Kent and Northeast Packaging Company in Presque Isle/Caribou. The Pelletier Family, who owns and farms the land the  designated potato plot sits on, is donating the field of the Dark Red Norland potatoes grown in it this  summer.  

“We are excited to be collaborating with ACAP and NEPCO to help relieve food insecurity in The County, and proud to have the Head Start children included in this project,” said Anne Desjardins of G. B. and D. Pelletier Farm.

For their part, NEPCO is donating the production run of the specially designed ACAP 50th Anniversary 5-pound bags that will hold the potatoes that will be given to volunteer-supported County food pantries, and  stocked in community cupboards region-wide this fall. 

“At Northeast Packaging Company we pride ourselves in our customer service with the local farmers here in Aroostook County and helping the people of the community. Getting local children involved in an  agricultural project helps instill them with work ethic and gain knowledge of what our local farmers do  throughout the growing process,” said Domenic Bua, NEPCO sales manager. “We are pleased to be partners  on this project and to support both the local community and ACAP as it celebrates its 50th anniversary.” 

Ann Desjardins, of G.B and D Pelletier Farm, teaching the children from ACAP’s Fort Kent Early Care and Education Center how to plant potatoes.
(Courtesy of ACAP)

NEPCO and ACAP representatives shared details of the design (artwork) contest for the special bag, which is open to County residents of all ages, and will run through July 1. Individuals submitting designs for  the potato bag should creatively capture, in a general sense, both Aroostook County potato farming and ACAP’s 50 years of service to the region.  

The design should be done in no more than four colors, be portrait in orientation with a maximum size of  14 inches by 17 inches. A complete list of guidelines, more information on the project, and the  link to submit entries online can be found at https://acap-me.org/potato-bag-contest/

The winner of the design contest will be selected by members of ACAP’s Community Development  Committee and representatives from the two project partners, G. B. D. Pelletier Farms and NEPCO. The  winning design will be unveiled, and the selected artist announced, at the Maine Potato Blossom Festival on Saturday, July 16 at 1 p.m. on the parade reviewing stand on Main Street in Fort Fairfield. 

Among those supporting the ACAP 50th Anniversary Potato Plot is a top national leader who knows firsthand the critical importance of the agriculture industry in Maine from the ground up. Aroostook County’s own U.S. Sen. Susan Collins credits her work ethic with the lessons she learned picking potatoes while on harvest break attending Caribou High School. The senator’s State Office Representative Trisha House attended the  ceremonial planting event and shared her sentiments.  

“It is a pleasure to congratulate Aroostook County Action Program for 50 years of providing critical services  that empower and improve the lives of your neighbors in need,” said Collins. “There is no better  way to celebrate ACAP’s landmark birthday than with the planting of the ACAP 50th Anniversary Potato  Plot. With the crop to be donated to local food pantries and community cupboards, this exciting project will  help to address the challenge of food insecurity as it honors Aroostook County’s agricultural heritage.” 

In addition to her remarks, an announcement was made at the event that Collins will honor the  collaborative efforts by ensuring the custom bagged potatoes make it to the White House in Washington, D.C. After they are harvested, the County native will deliver spuds to the chef at the Executive Mansion. 

The next opportunity for community members to engage in the project is tentatively (weather and crop  dependent) set to coincide with Fort Kent’s annual Scarecrow Festival this fall. On Friday, Sept. 16, as  part of the kickoff for the festivities, community members, area school children, ACAP Early Care and  Education preschoolers, and agency-wide staff and volunteers will be invited to take part in hand harvesting  the potatoes and helping to bag them.

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