CARIBOU, Maine — Nearly 50 gathered June 1 as Bishop Robert P. Deeley led a prayer and blessed a field where thousands of pounds of vegetables are grown and harvested each year to feed the needy.
The blessing was delivered in an effort to ensure a safe season and bountiful crop for the Farm for ME program, which works through Catholic Charities Maine to distribute produce to more than 24 food pantries around northern Maine.
The field on the Van Buren Road in Caribou is owned by Ryan Guerrette of Guerrette Farms, who donated its use to the program.
Farm for ME, which was established in 2013, did not have as much success with a smaller plot it farmed previously, but harvested nearly 34,000 pounds of beets, carrots, rutabagas and squash from the Guerrette land last year.
“The first couple years of the program we used a little farm in Presque Isle that hadn’t been farmed in years,” Dixie Shaw, the hunger and relief services director for Catholic Charities Maine, said. “It was so hard. It would have taken 10 years to get anywhere near what we are doing now.”
Beyond the success of the volunteer group’s harvest last year, outside donations from other area farmers provided an additional 70,000 pounds of produce for the needy in 2015. With the help of the Northern Girl processing plant in Grand Isle, a portion of the harvest also was frozen to provide food to pantries year round.
Bishop Deeley, who previously worked in Boston and Rome and only came to the Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland in 2014, said he had never blessed a field before.
“There wasn’t an opportunity to bless a field there,” Deeley said. “I’ve blessed gardens, but never anything like this. There is something wonderful about this; it brings you in touch with the earth, and reminds us of the fact that God has created us for a purpose, and that part of that purpose is to care for one another.”
With Pope Francis announcing 2016 as the Holy Year of Mercy, blessing a field to ensure a bountiful harvest for the less fortunate seemed to be the right thing to do, he said.
“This is the year of mercy, which is intended to remind us of our responsibility to care for one another,” Deeley said. “We were going to do this in April, but that would’ve been a little early for northern Maine. We were focusing on feeding the hungry in all our churches during April. This food service provides for 24 pantries in Aroostook County and when it goes over it goes to Good Shepherd [Food Bank in Auburn], so this is a major mission of care.”