More than 25 years have passed since children at Katahdin Elementary School in Stacyville were released from classes to pick potatoes, but every year, fourth-graders at the school still get a taste of a traditional harvest.

“Some of the children have never walked in a potato field or picked potatoes,” said fourth-grade teacher Crystal Sirois. So for the past six years, a unit on Maine potato history in the social studies program has included a day in the field.

“To read about it would be fine, but to have the actual experience is an added bonus to their learning,” Sirois said.

When the students visited the farm of Tim Long on Sept. 18 in Sherman, they each were assigned a section of potato field, given baskets to pick the potatoes in that section, and tickets to mark the barrels that they filled using their baskets.

As a follow up to the potato picking experience, Sirois invited author Lynn Olsen Brown to her class to read a chapter from her book “Alice, Frankenstein and Saturday Night Baked Beans” and to describe the harvests she remembers from the 1950s and 1960s. Each student received a copy of the book as a gift from the local bank branch of Katahdin Trust.

Brown said in an invitation for me to join them on Sept. 23 that she would read a chapter from her book on picking potatoes and would share artifacts, such as a potato basket, as well as “answer any questions they might have about the harvest or how they might someday write their own book.”

Sure enough, when I entered Sirois’ classroom Wednesday morning, Brown was hanging samples of a potato picker’s wardrobe above the chalkboard: jeans with long underwear and cotton gloves, a flannel shirt over a sweater over a T-shirt with a bandanna.

Spread out on a table in front of the class were a potato basket, a large water thermos, picker tickets, a field boss’ ledger and a metal lunchbox containing a fluffernutter sandwich and candy bars — artifacts that would give substance to her readings for the class about hand picking potatoes decades ago.

The display also featured household items Brown mentions in her book about her regular visits, with her sister Andrea, to the farm of her aunt Irene Bradford of Patten: a push-button light switch, a clear glass light bulb and a floor register.

Prominent among the farmhouse items was a trunk in which Brown found more than 50 journals that Bradford kept religiously to document day-to-day life on the farm she managed alone after the death of her husband, Freeman Bradford. Brown drew on these journals in writing “Alice, Frankenstein and Saturday Night Beans.”

“The purpose of my book is to honor Irene Olsen Bradford,” Brown told the students. “She cared about others and worked hard,” taking care of all the farm animals as well as the potato crop, grain and hay.

“I wish she had written it herself. She was a wonderful writer,” she said.

But when Irene Bradford died in 1996, she had not written a book about her life on the farm, and her niece felt compelled to honor her memory with a collection of her stories.

“I don’t want these stories to be lost,” she told the class. “Most of the full working farms are gone, and those who do farm have another job. Irene worked full-time on the farm.”

Several of the students were familiar with the Bradford House, which is now a bed-and-breakfast, and were proud to say they had been in it. Hands went up over and over again, as Brown introduced her presentation with questions about the way life and the harvest used to be.

She teased the kids into reading her book by cautioning those who had read it not to reveal the meaning of the title.

“Who is Alice? Who is Frankenstein? You have to read the book to find out,” she said, describing the title as a hook and asking what that meant.

“You hook readers, to get them interested so they will want to read more,” said one young man.

Several members of the class were well into the first chapter as Brown concluded her presentation.

Information about “Alice, Frankenstein and Saturday Night Beans” is available from

Kathryn Olmstead is a former University of Maine associate dean and associate professor of journalism living in Aroostook County, where she publishes the quarterly magazine Echoes. Her column appears in this space every other Friday. She can be reached at or P.O. Box 626, Caribou, ME 04736.