FORT KENT, Maine — When fifth-generation Fort Kent potato farmer John Roy’s arm was crushed in a harvester three Sundays ago, it could have brought an end to the family farm.
Roy, 62, was preparing his equipment for the nearing harvest season when his arm was sucked into the machine by a conveyor belt and broken in four places.
So instead of reaping the rewards of a potato crop well planted last spring, Roy spent the next two and a half weeks at Maine Medical Center in Portland, where he underwent five surgeries and worried about how he would get the crop out of the ground.
Roy Farms, which plants around 350 acres of potatoes each year that are shipped to Penobscot McCrum plant in Washburn, is not done farming at all, thanks to some potato farmers and other businesses who harvested Roy’s crop and transported it to the processor.
“I was so worried. The last three weeks have been a nightmare,” Roy said. “I kept thinking, ‘if I have to leave 120 acres in the ground I’m done, I’m done,’” Roy said.
McCrum representative Andrew Bray organized the harvesting help for Roy Farms, which is also owned by John Roy’s wife, Cindy, and the couple’s son, Dustin.
Dustin Roy, 25, works on the farm but has never operated a harvester before this season, because his father usually does that job.
“It wasn’t quite the way I wanted to learn, but I learned,” Dustin Roy said. “I had to step up. That’s for sure.”
Dustin Roy, who someday plans to take over the family business, led the farm’s harvest crew along with help from his uncle, Alan Roy, but they could not have completed the last 120 acres on their own.
“That young man got a lot of responsibility thrown on him the last three weeks and he did a great job,” McCrum’s Bray said.
Farmers who had finished harvesting their own crops donated their time and equipment Wednesday and Thursday to dig up the rest of Roy’s crop.
The farmers were Labrie Farms, Edwin Pelletier and Sons, Devin and Corey Rioux, Dale and Randy Caron, Adam and Lloyd Paradis, and Joe and Phil Bouchard from Bouchard Family Farms.
Phil Bouchard, 27, said his family has known the Roys for many years and described them as “very hard workers.”
“If someone leaves 100 acres in the ground that could make or break a farm. They’re counting on that crop to survive,” Bouchard said. “We know they would do the same for us if the roles were reversed.”
Bray said volunteers did not have to be asked but offered to help the Roy family.
Jeff and Tim York of McCain Fertilizer, R.F. Chamberland and Island Farms Transportation trucked the potatoes to the plant after farmers dug them from the ground.
“I didn’t ask for help. I would have been too shy to ask,” John Roy said. “It’s unbelievable how good this community is.”
Cindy Roy said her husband’s arm is still an open wound, and he will undergo a skin graft next week. She said he is relieved that the potato crop made it out of the ground and the farm will live to see another season.
“He loves farming,” Cindy Roy said. “All his life, that’s all he’s ever done.”
Cindy Roy broke into tears when she said she could not come up with enough words to thank the community for helping her family.
“Only in Aroostook County,” she said.
Correction: An earlier version of this story contained a misspelling. The processing plant in Washburn is Penobscot McCrum.