Nfld. & Labrador

Trading labour for vegetables in Cormack: A Land & Sea archival special

Fishermen from the Northern Peninsula considered their trips to Cormack, trading labour for vegetables, to be a money saver and a chance for a family vacation.

During a lull in the herring season, Northern Peninsula fishermen head south to pick potatoes in Cormack

Farmer Sandy Rideout considers many of the travelling potato pickers friends, visiting some on the Northern Peninsula. (Land & Sea)

Cormack farmer Sandy Rideout has a harvester, but he hasn't used it for four years. Instead he relies on the barter system and the labour of Northern Peninsula fishermen and their families, who make the trip down the peninsula and spend a few days picking vegetables.

No money changes hands. The fishermen, who will usually come with a few treats of their own, leave with potatoes, cabbage and turnips — usually enough to last until the next year's trip. And Rideout gets a harvested field, perhaps with a few bakeapples and salt fish as a bonus.

A few days of vegetable picking for a year's worth of vegetables is a good deal for farmers on the Northern Peninsula, waiting for herring to return. (Land & Sea)

It might seem old-fashioned, but the farmer says it actually works well: he doesn't have to buy a second harvester, people get to leave with their vegetables for the winter, and he makes friends he can visit in St. Anthony during lobster season.

A barter system that works

The land on the Northern Peninsula isn't ideal for farming, but the water around it is good fishing ground. That's how the people who live their spend much of their year, first catching lobster in the spring and then moving to herring.

But there's a natural lull in the herring season in early fall, says fisherman Eugene Ploughman. That's the perfect time to pack the family up and drive down to Cormack, just south of the peninsula.

Relying on hand-picking by travelling fishermen and their families is more efficient than using his single harvester, says Rideout. (Land & Sea)

Ploughman is one of the many fishermen who travel to the farms in the area to pick vegetables and have a bit of a holiday. At Rideout's farm the deal is that you pick 10 bags, and the 11th is yours to keep. All it costs, he says, is a bit of work and about $30 in gas.

You can pick as few or as many bags as you like, take breaks to watch your stories in the afternoon, and socialize with other friends who have made the trip in the evening. It's a welcome break, the families who make the trip say. For Rideout, it's a chance to catch up with old friends.

Farmers consider the trip to pick potatoes in Cormack not only a chance to earn a year's worth of vegetables but a vacation with friends. (Land & Sea)

Even if there isn't a set salary to be earned the trip is well worth it, says Ploughman. After all, his family saved a lot of money in vegetables last year.

"We still got our potatoes yet that we got last fall."

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