When Maine potatoes were at the root of a trade war with N.B.
When the skirmish heated up RCMP and U.S. state troopers stood by just in case
Nearly 40 years ago, Maine farmers brought their rotten potatoes to New Brunswick border crossings and put them to use.
Angry about cheaper potatoes imported from New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island, they staged protests and blockades, which is where the potatoes came in.
Trucks, protesters and piles of potatoes blocked several border points, preventing the transfer of all goods between the two countries, starting on March 27, 1980.
As the Toronto Star reported on March 28, 1980, the farmers dumped their rotting potatoes on the roads, and "one group burned a Canadian flag."
The potato growers were aiming for the attention of their own government over trade agreements that allowed cheaper Canadian spuds to be sold in the New England market.
On Day Two of the conflict, CBC reporter Bob Allison reported from Houlton, Maine, where the farmers had defied officials and re-closed the border crossing.
Houlton was just one of nine crossing points blocked by the farmers.
Two hundred state troopers stood by in riot gear in case of a clash between the farmers and the truckers trying to get their goods across the border.
'Not mad at Canadians'
The situation had reached the boiling point as the farmers were "faced with some of the worst prices since the depression," Allison said, later explaining that 1980 was the third year in a row for "financial disaster."
Potato grower Mike Brown gave a short, blunt explanation for the standoff.
"Poverty, nothing but damn poverty," he said.
Allison explained that Brown was typical of the demonstrators, and "not mad at Canadians." In fact, his grandfather had grown potatoes in Prince Edward Island soil.
However, he could no longer accept one cent per pound for potatoes that cost five cents to grow.
"There comes a time when you have to take a stand," said Brown. "You can't be driven any further."
The next day the news for the farmers seemed more positive.
"The Maine-New Brunswick potato war seems to be over," Jan Tennant announced on The National on March 29, 1980.
Farmer Dan LaBrie told a happy crowd of fellow-protesters that the border would be opened. The U.S. government had agreed to a task force, and so the demonstration was over.
As Allison reported "the Maine farmers must confront the greater issues involved," explaining that "North American eating habits have changed." Frozen french fries and processed potato products were winning over consumers.
"Maine is plagued with poor soil management," Allison continued, and didn't produce a variety as marketable as those from Idaho.
Demonstrations, blockades and federal subsidies were not the answer to the current crisis, he suggested. Instead, he concluded, "they must grow ... a quality potato to meet modern tastes."